China Official Says Hong Kong Chief Above Judiciary, Legislature

China’s top official in Hong Kong has dispelled the notion of a separation of powers in the city and says the chief executive has authority over the executive, judiciary and legislature branches.

In a speech titled “the correct understanding of Hong Kong’s political system," Zhang Xiaoming, head of the city’s central government liaison office, said he picked a controversial issue to discuss in order to tackle the issue head on.

“It should be clear that Hong Kong does not implement the political system of separation of powers," said Zhang, at an event commemorating the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. “It didn’t before the reunification, nor does it after the reunification."

Zhang quoted former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as saying in a 1987 speech that it would be inappropriate for Hong Kong to adopt a Western approach to its political system, such as the concept of separation of powers, according to a transcript of Zhang’s comments posted on the liaison office website.

Zhang’s speech prompted criticism from the city’s pan-democratic figures. Civic Party leader Alan Leong said the comments elevate the leader’s status to that of an emperor; while Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan questioned the changing interpretation of the Basic Law, the South China Morning Post reported.

Zhang’s comments are not new, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said in a release from the Hong Kong government. The chief executive is accountable both to the Central Government and to Hong Kong, Lam said.

Differences over political reform set off almost three months of protests last year. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers rejected a China-backed election plan for the city in June, leaving in place the current system where the chief executive is chosen by a 1,200-strong committee of Hong Kong’s mostly Beijing-friendly political and economic elites, rather than by the city’s voters.