China's Zhang Outlines Plans to Consolidate Power Over Hong Kong

  • City told not to challenge already ‘high degree of autonomy’
  • Third-most senior leader speaks before handover anniversary

The waterfront in the Tsim Sha Tsui district as buildings across the Victoria Harbour stand illuminated at night in Hong Kong.

Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

China’s third-most senior leader has warned the people of Hong Kong not to challenge the “high degree of autonomy” the city has enjoyed since it was handed over to Beijing by Britain 20 years ago.

Outlining plans to consolidate Beijing’s power over Hong Kong, National People’s Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang in a speech on Saturday also called on the city to enact controversial national security legislation that has been on hold since half a million people flooded the streets in opposition in 2003. The sweeping legislation would outlaw treason, sedition and other national threats.

“The relationship between the central government and Hong Kong is that of delegation of power, not power-sharing,” Zhang said at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on the upcoming 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain. Calls for self-determination or independence for Hong Kong were attempts to shun the sovereignty enshrined in the Basic Law that China has over the city. “One cannot turn a blind eye to such acts,” he said.

Zhang mentioned areas in which the central government would go into further detail to consolidate its hold over Hong Kong, including the pace of political reform, Beijing’s power over the city’s chief executive and its ability to appoint and dismiss key officials.

The Hong Kong special administrative region should “steadfastly implement the constitutional obligation of national security under the Basic Law,” he said.

Hong Kong craves autonomy as China Demands Loyalty

China promised to give Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” before the U.K. relinquished control in 1997. On July 1, Xi Jinping is expected to visit the city for the first time as president to mark the anniversary of the exchange.

The commemoration comes against a backdrop of elevated political tension in Hong Kong. So-called Occupy protests paralyzed parts of the city in 2014 sparked by China’s insistence that it would vet candidates for the chief executive post. Many residents of the city are still angry over the lack of a direct election for their chief executive, who is selected by a 1,194-member committee dominated by China loyalists.

Zhang defined the role of the city’s chief executive as “core” in his speech. Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official, Carrie Lam, was elected chief executive in March. She won a resounding victory among the business and political elites who picked the city’s leader, and dispatched an opponent more popular with the general public. Lam’s inauguration ceremony will take place on July 1.

The NPC chairman said Hong Kong’s judges and government officials should take the lead to understand the Basic Law.

The timing of Zhang’s comments are interesting because they come as Lam is finalizing the list of people she wants in her cabinet, Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said by phone Saturday.

“The speech means Beijing has overall jurisdiction and whatever privileges Hong Kong people enjoy are granted by Beijing,” Lam said. “The hard-line language is laying the groundwork for July 1 when Xi Jinping is expected to visit the city.” 

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