Beijing asserts authority in Hong Kong

Liberties could be threatened by its ‘total control’

Protesters in Hong Kong burned a mock “white paper” Wednesday that was released by the Beijing State Council saying it holds ultimate control over the former British colony.
Kin Cheung/Associated Press
Protesters in Hong Kong burned a mock “white paper” Wednesday that was released by the Beijing State Council saying it holds ultimate control over the former British colony.

BEIJING — It was, the influential South China Morning Post proclaimed on Wednesday, a ‘‘reminder of who is the real boss.’’

China’s government released a key policy document on Tuesday, formally spelling out its interpretation of the ‘‘One Country, Two Systems’’ model that was negotiated as part of the territory’s handover from British rule in 1997.

That system, enshrined in Hong Kong’s ‘‘Basic Law,’’ had granted the territory a high degree of autonomy within China and allowed a fiercely capitalist city and global financial center to flourish with significant civil liberties and a largely free press and judiciary under China’s one-party Communist rule.


Many in Hong Kong now worry that those liberties are under threat as Beijing asserts what the South China Morning Post called its ‘‘total control.’’

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Beijing’s ‘‘White Paper’’ reaffirmed its promise to allow universal suffrage in 2017 in elections for Hong Kong’s top political post, the chief executive. But it spelled out in unequivocal terms that the Chinese government retains the ultimate say and that only ‘‘patriots’’ will be allowed to run for the job.

‘‘Loving the country is the basic political requirement for all of Hong Kong’s administrators,’’ the document said, a statement interpreted as meaning that nobody seen as inimical to Beijing would be allowed to assume key posts in Hong Kong.

At the same time, Beijing emphasized that it has ‘‘comprehensive jurisdiction’’ over Hong Kong, which is just ‘‘one of the local administrative regions of the country.’’ It warned that the territory’s ‘‘high degree of autonomy is subject to the central government’s authorization,’’ and that the principle of ‘‘two systems’’ is subordinate to the idea of ‘‘one country.’’

Beijing argued that the ‘‘One Country, Two Systems’’ model has allowed Hong Kong to prosper, retain capitalism, and remain stable, but it said some people in Hong Kong have a ‘‘confused and lopsided’’ understanding of what the term means. It also warned ‘‘outside forces’’ against using the city as a way to interfere in China’s domestic affairs — a warning understood to be directed mainly at the United States and Britain, whose governments have emphasized that China needs to keep its promise to grant Hong Kong genuine democracy, to Beijing’s intense annoyance.


While Hong Kong’s government welcomed the White Paper, pro-democracy politicians burned copies of it Wednesday, while the Federation of Students held up a roll of ‘‘toilet paper’’ made up of pages from the Basic Law.

The Hong Kong Bar Association charged Wednesday that the White Paper threatened the ‘‘core value of judicial independence.’’ It complained that the paper lumped judges in with politicians and bureaucrats as ‘‘administrators’’ who must be ‘‘patriotic.’’

That, the barristers’ group said in a statement, sent out ‘‘the wrong message to the people of Hong Kong, the people on the mainland, and the wider international community that the courts here are part of the machinery of government and sing in unison with it.’’

‘‘This most definitely is NOT the case in Hong Kong,’’ it said.

On Monday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the recent detention of two Hong Kong journalists in mainland China, complaining that media freedom in Hong Kong was under pressure amid physical attacks on journalists and growing self-censorship.


The release of the White Paper came less than a week after tens of thousands of Hong Kongers assembled for an emotional ceremony of remembrance for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre on the 25th anniversary of that crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989.