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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
Hong Kong and China

Emily Lau,
Former elected member, Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Though Hong Kong is now part of China, I am sorry to tell you tonight that the Chinese Consul-General in Toronto is not here.

I was told an hour ago that he had called to say he was not coming because of me. He says I do not represent the Chinese people and did not want to be here because his presence might be taken as a sign of endorsement.

I never professed to represent 1.2 billion Chinese people. Give me time, maybe that will come. But not yet. Of course, I do claim to be a representative of the Hong Kong people. I was elected by them to the Legislative Council in September 1995 to serve four years.

Of course it doesn't take much to realize that four years is up in 1999. But, because of the Chinese takeover on July 1, the Legislative Council was dismantled. All of us who belonged to the pro-democracy lobby were thrown out. Thirty-three people were kept on and they were appointed to the provisional legislature, which Maurice referred to earlier; this very controversial body.

Those of us who did not want to be appointed to any legislature, we were thrown out. That's why in the last day a lot of people are coming up to me and asking, what are you doing now? because they know I'm now unemployed and I'm waiting for the next election.

This evening, I think I'll just try to tell you what's been happening in the past five weeks.

Some people have been saying, ah, what a relief, with the Communist takeover there has been no jailing of political dissidents, no closure of newspapers, no huge riots. So, it's business as usual.

Well, I'm not so sure.

I have never predicted that people like myself or Martin Lee would be arrested within weeks of Communist rule. What I have said — and I still maintain — is that I would not rule it out.

Why should I rule it out? If I rule it out, you would say, hey, Emily Lau, what grounds have you got to be so optimistic? I've got no grounds. So I would not rule it out. But I have never said it would happen three or four weeks into Chinese rule. And neither have I said newspapers would be closed down shortly after the Communist takeover.

So, the fact that these things have not happened should not be taken as a sign that, ah, good, now we can conclude that everything is fine.

In fact, just one day before I left Hong Kong for Vancouver I had a visitor from Canada, who shall remain nameless. And he asked me a question. He said, tell me, why are you so unremittingly pessimistic?

Of course, I guess this gentleman has read my writings in the Far Eastern Economic Review. I was the Hong Kong correspondent for the Review from 1984 up to 1991.

Since 1991, I have spoken a lot. I always invite people to refer to back copies of the Review to see what I have written and to look at my speeches for the last six years in the Legislative Council.

Where is it that I've got it wrong? Where is it that I've been completely over the top?

He said to me, while, don't you think you should be a bit positive at times so as to give yourself some credibility?

I would like to think I have some. Otherwise the Institute wouldn't have asked me to come here. But there you go. Some people think if you're always critical, always negative, you have little credibility.

I'm always very happy to be optimistic, to be positive if there are grounds. If there are reasons, I'd love to be able to come and report that to you.

But, of course, neither am I saying the future of Hong Kong is doomed, we're finished. No way! How can you say that about the future of 6.4 million people? But, I think we have problems.

Let's just go through the things that the Tung administration, or the government of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) has done in the last few weeks to make people feel we could have problems on our hands.

First of all, they passed some laws; very controversial laws. One law was passed in one day taking away the right of abode of children born in China. These are children born in China of Hong Kong parents.

Under the basic law, these children were born in China. If either one of their parents is a permanent resident of Hong Kong, the child can have the right of abode in Hong Kong. That's not the case before July 1. I think the official figure is 66,000, but most people expect the number is much higher because there are many Chinese men in Hong Kong who go to China to either have wives or concubines. And there are many children there and they are waiting to come in.

So, the government is very concerned and they don't want to have this great influx of children. They passed a law in one day; all three readings in one day, saying, yes, these kids have the right of abode, but they have to get a certificate of entitlement before they can come in. And they also have to get the Chinese government's permission and so on. So, this is going to take some time.

Some people will tell you they've waited for 15 years. Just because they don't have the money to pay bribes, they can not get to Hong Kong. It's very controversial.

Some Hong Kong people are on the side of the government, because they want to bring the gate down. They don't want these people rushing in.

We can understand the population pressure, but if the right is enshrined in the basic law, which is our mini-constitution, you cannot just within one day pass a law and take away that right. But, that's what the Tung administration tried to do and they got it, because the provisional legislature which many of us call a rubber stamp, just rubber stamped it within 24 hours.

The following week, again within one day, they passed a bill to suspend some laws that were passed in the dying days of Colonial rule and these laws relate to labour rights; the right to collective bargaining, the right to non-discrimination by bosses, and so on.

And why did they do that? Because the government is against those laws; all along they were against them. And the business community is against them because they feel it would make the unions too powerful and then the employers would make less money.

They wanted to get rid of all those laws, but they wanted to make it sound better so they said, we will freeze the laws, we will suspend the laws for further consultation. And they said, you people were really wrong in the past for passing it without going through the consultation.

And what did they do? They froze it within one day. These things make people think, do these people have respect for the Rule of law? For due process? Is it really such an emergency that we have to rush through the legislation in just one day?

Just a few days before that, the new Attorney-General, who is now called co-secretary for justice, Elsie Leung who is a member of the Peoples Congress in China, said there was no problem. We don't have tens of thousands of kids rushing to the immigration department asking for right of abode. When she said that everybody thought the situation was under control.

And then, bingo! They forced the legislature to pass the law in one day. And the legislature did. So, the whole episode did not give people much confidence in the executive and in the legislature.

Then came the judiciary, which some of us would like to think would still be standing on the side of the Hong Kong people. But, there was a challenge of the legality, the constitutionality of the provisional legislature, which is very controversial.

The thing went to the court of appeal and not surprisingly the court of appeal ruled that the provisional legislature is valid, it's legal which, of course, is something many people disagree with, including the bar association of Hong Kong and the law society.

But, I guess many people just said, well, what do you expect, our judges are also realists. But, then the judges went further to declare that the judiciary of the SAR has no right to question any decision by the National Peoples Congress (NPC) on Hong Kong.

And that made many lawyers, including law professors at the universities, the bar, the law society and us in the pro-democracy lobby, very worried.

For a start, there was no need for the court of appeal to rule like that. That was not germane to the issue. The issue was whether the provisional legislature was legal.

Okay, you come out say it's legal, fine. But then, because the issue was canvassed during the trial, these judges came up hurriedly. And I don't think all the arguments were heard. But, then they came out and said, sorry, we have no jurisdiction over anything.

Some people would ask where does that leave the basic law? Even the basic law puts limitations on actions by the NPC. And how come our judges just three weeks after the takeover just surrender our autonomy and just give a blank cheque to the central people's government and say, please interfere in whatever way you like because whatever you do we can't fight back.

These are some of the developments which I think touch at the heart of Hong Kong's success. And that is the Rule of law and an independent judiciary.

Some people may say that Jiang Zemin said that is not one of the reasons for Hong Kong's success.

But, I'll tell you many of us in the community, no matter whether we have different political views — even the business community — all argue that the Rule of law, independence of the judiciary is very important to our success.

But, now we have judges acting like that. And that has shaken even my confidence, because I always criticized the executive, I criticized the British and the Chinese governments and I criticize these rubber stamps in the provisional legislature.?I hesitate to criticize the judges because in the past they have not given me too much reason to criticize them. But, I was worried all along that judges are also very realistic.

Some people will tell that in Hong Kong we are very pragmatic. And what is the definition of pragmatism, ladies and gentlemen? They say it's American pragmatism, but it is, if you're not with the one you love, you love the one you're with.?I can tell you, I am not that pragmatic. I think those developments should make you pause and consider whether there are troubles on the horizon.

To round off, about the elections next year. I intend to stand. Right now, because in the past I have worked as a legislator with one income, which is highly exceptional because all the others have other jobs and other incomes, but I have one income. Now I'm out of a job without income.

I'm working very hard, struggling to keep an office going, to continue to service my constituents. I'm waiting for the election next year. But, under the rules that have been announced by C.H.Tung — they will introduce a bill in the provisional legislature later this month — two-thirds of the Council will returned by limited franchise; some of it by corporate voting.

Each bank will have a vote to return a banker; each company a vote to return a businessman. This is so repugnant isn't it. Maybe in the last century some country had this type of voting method, but we are going to have it in Hong Kong.

So, two-thirds of the seats; that means 40. The majority of the 40 will be dominated by those who are pro-Peking and pro- business. And 20 would be opened for universal suffrage elections and if those rules are democratic and fair I myself will contest. They are going to use the so-called proportional representation system, which we've never had before. In the past, we had the first past the post.

Now they want to change the rules, so that those who are pro-Communist — who have some support — will get some seats.

So, the end result of next year's elections, if they are going to be held, is that the democratic lobby will be destined to be in a tiny minority. We will continue to be out-voted and out- gunned in the legislature. This is our fate.

That legislature will sit for two years and then in two years' time we'll have elections and the then number of directly-elected seats will go up from 20 to 24. And then it goes on and on.

I think Hong Kong is ready for full democracy. Hong Kong is not China. We're not trying to interfere with what happens in China. We are ready. For those of you who've been to Hong Kong, you probably will agree with me.

And now because Hong Kong and Canada have such close ties — we have almost 100,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong — I welcome the opportunity to share my concerns, my wishes and aspirations with you. I certainly hope you will communicate these concerns to your government.

I think your government has been quite weak and I think that's an understatement. They are very interested in trade and money and contracts, like the American government and many other Western governments.

But, I think human rights and democracy are pillars of the Western civilization. If we see leaders, whether its business or political leaders of Western civilization abandoning human rights and democracy in the rush to worship before the alter of Mammon, then it's not a question of little Hong Kong going under; not going to have democracy and human rights. You will also wonder about the future of Western civilization. This is a huge topic.

I don't know whether it's hope, hype or reality, but I hope I've opened up a can of worms and I look forward to an interesting discussion.