by Joshua Wong, Jeffrey Ng, Commissioner Song Zhe and the Office of the Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China in Hong Kong
October 14, 2016 to January 20, 2017
On October 14, Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ng published an article in World Policy Blog entitled, “Reclaiming Our Right to Self-Determination in Post-Umbrella Hong Kong”. Four days later, “Self-Determination in Hong Kong Is a Non-Issue” appeared in Wall Street Journal. Its author was Song Zhe, the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry Office of the People’s Republic of China in Hong Kong. While not referring directly to Wong and Ng’s article, it appeared to be a response to it. Eventually, seven more articles on Hong Kong self-determination would appear, six written by Wong and Ng and one by the spokesperson of the PRC Foreign Ministry Office in HK. Together, they constitute the closest thing to a debate between advocates of Hong Kong self-determination and the Partystate to have occurred, and in that respect alone are significant, as it is rare for the Partystate to openly debate its opponents.
Much of Wong and Ng’s focus in the articles is on the history of issue of self-determination as it relates to HK. In this respect, the articles lay the groundwork for a new project which has just emerged, 解密歷史 重奪未來 (Decoding Hong Kong’s History), 香港前途研究計劃 (Archival Research on the Future of HK). Carried out jointly by the Liber Research Community, Demosisto (Wong’s political party, of which he is secretary-general), and a group of young scholars, the project seeks to research historical documents related to HK in the belief that much of the history regarding Hong Kong’s political status is not widely known and that there may indeed be aspects of it that up to now have remained altogether hidden. This worthy initiative is now crowdfunding.
Below please find a complete list of articles by Joshua Wong, Jeffrey Wong and the PRC Foreign Ministry Office of HK written in the period noted above.
“Reclaiming Our Right to Self-Determination in Post-Umbrella Hong Kong”, Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ng, World Policy Blog, October 14, 2016
“Self-Determination in Hong Kong Is a Non-Issue”, Song Zhe, Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2016
宋哲：自決在香港是個「偽命題」, Ming Pao, October 20, 2016
黃之鋒： 回應中國外交部駐港特派員宋哲 中共奪走香港人的自決權, Ming Pao, October 22, 2016
外交部駐香港公署發言人：談論自決應先學點國際法常識和歷史知識, Ming Pao, October 24, 2016
黃之鋒、敖卓軒：港澳不算殖民地？1972年聯合國決議的真相, Initium, November 2, 2016
“How China stripped Hong Kong of its right to self-determination in 1972- and distorted history”, Joshua Wong, Jeffrey Ng, Hong Kong Free Press, November 8, 2016
“Hong Kong’s Protest Leaders Demand Self-Determination”, Joshua Wong, Jeffrey Ng, Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2016
“Autonomy in Hong Kong is at a Twenty-year Low”, Joshua Wong, Jeffrey Ng, Washington Post, January 20, 2017
October 14, 2016
By Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo
When we were born in Hong Kong during its final years under colonial rule, the fate of our hometown had long been determined: By July 1, 1997, its sovereignty would be transferred to the People’s Republic of China. The post-90s generation we belong to has, unlike previous generations, grown up in a changed city — it is no longer a British colony, but a Chinese Special Administrative Region. This arrangement, however, resulted from a series of negotiations between Britain and the PRC behind closed doors, eventually leading to the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. Hong Kongers at the time were absent from the entire process, for Beijing prohibited their participation in any form.
The democracy venture in Hong Kong has its origins in the mid-1980s, when intellectuals, lawyers, and educators — followed by the masses, especially in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre — began to demand a fully democratic legislature and, ultimately, a directly elected government. Over the next three decades, Hong Kongers used all peaceful means possible, from rallies and demonstrations of various scales to street-blocking sit-ins, to try and achieve those very objectives. Unfortunately, even with the Umbrella Movement two years ago — the largest-scale resistance movement on Chinese soil since Tiananmen — success has been negligible. The Chinese communist regime has neglected countless promises and remains oppressive. It still refuses to implement democracy as it is written in the Hong Kong Basic Law, the territory’s constitutional document that is supposed to assure universal suffrage, as Article 45 states, “in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.” Hence, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong will, like before, be elected next year by a committee of 1,200 overwhelming dominated by Beijing loyalists and the business sector, which is hardly representative of the city’s population of over 7 million.
Many have indeed begun to rethink the ways in which the struggle for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong may proceed in the current post-Umbrella era. It is in this context that we have decided to move our endeavor into a somewhat more peculiar arena — the archives. From leading the fight against the implementation of Moral and National Education in public schools to the battle for genuine universal suffrage, one of us, a prominent student-activist, has been at the forefront of social movements in Hong Kong over the last five years. The other, an aspiring historian, has spent most of his time as an undergraduate and graduate student researching various aspects of Hong Kong’s past. Together we strive to investigate the history of our city further, with the intention of finding out how Hong Kongers, as former colonized peoples, came to lose our right to self-determination.
When the United States decided to establish formal diplomatic relations with the PRC under President Richard Nixon, the formerly unrecognized communist country finally gained admittance into the United Nations in 1971. Almost immediately after, as orthodox accounts of Hong Kong’s history never mention, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. urged the Special Committee on Decolonization to remove the Crown Colony of Hong Kong from the List of Non-Self-Governing Territories. This removal effectively stripped our right to self-determination, which would otherwise have been guaranteed by the U.N. Charter. To our surprise, Hong Kongers did not react against the decision, nor did the international media pay much attention to this episode — a blatant violation of the rights of non-self-governing peoples. Given its enduring implications for Hong Kong, we are concerned by the fact that most people have not had the chance to learn about this process from beginning to end.
Little is known about the specific basis for the U.N.’s conclusion that Hong Kong did not qualify as a non-self-governing territory when it was still, by every definition, a colony under British rule. Likewise, little is known about the circumstances that drove Britain to relinquish the rights of Hong Kongers when it had committed to liberating colonized peoples elsewhere. Even the very notion that Hong Kong is “an inalienable part” of the PRC, as Article 1 of the Basic Law declares, is seldom disputed. But given the frequency of territorial changes throughout history — certainly including Chinese history — why must Hong Kong inherently be always a part of China just because it was at one point? How is it possible, moreover, for a territory initially colonized in 1841 to “return” to a nation-state founded more than a century later, in 1949?
Historical knowledge can empower all of us. History is vital to our consciousness of who we are as a society; it enables us to distinguish just from unjust; it hinders any attempts by authorities to distort facts and manipulate the truth. Yet standard history books fail to accurately recount how we were deprived of our right to self-determination and how our sovereignty was subsequently compromised by Sino-British negotiations. It is time, we believe, for us to think beyond merely achieving universal suffrage under Chinese rule, which has been the paramount goal of democracy leaders for the past three decades. It is also time for us to tackle (as rarely before) issues relating to sovereign rights and the legitimacy of our existing constitution. As a British colony, in accordance with the U.N. Charter, we rightfully deserved a referendum with which we could express our stance. That opportunity was wrongly taken away from us.
For too long, Hong Kong has been depicted as little more than a global financial hub. When TIME famously coined the term Nylonkong in 2008 to describe the interconnection of New York, London, and Hong Kong and its importance to 21st century capitalism, it focused chiefly on our city’s economic merits. For many Hong Kongers, materialistic pursuits have been the most irrefutable aim in life. We are delighted, however, to observe that Hong Kong is currently in the midst of a transition to a post-materialist age; no longer can we be satisfied merely through money-making. Justice, equality, and autonomy are, along with freedom and democracy, increasingly becoming the core values our generation treasures most.
We are therefore prepared to advance our struggle from the local and national levels to a more global level. We ought to regain Hong Kongers’ right to self-determination from the international community so that the people, rather than the authoritarian regime in Beijing, can truly decide our own future.
Joshua Wong is the secretary-general of Demosistō, a political party in Hong Kong that he co-founded earlier this year. He was previously the convener of the student activist group Scholarism. He made international headlines in 2014 as the student leader of the 79-day pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. In addition to his nomination for TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year, he was named one of the 25 Most Influential Teens by TIME, one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune, and one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy.
Jeffrey Ngo is an M.A. student of Global Histories in the Draper Interdisciplinary Program in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He also completed his undergraduate studies at NYU, with a double major in history and journalism. He is currently writing a thesis on the history of Hong Kong’s sovereignty.
Self-Determination in Hong Kong Is a Non-Issue
Historically, legally and culturally, the city belongs to China. Better to focus on its advantages as part of one country.
by Song Zhe
October 18, 2016
Some people in Hong Kong lately have been advocating for, or talking about, “self-determination.” In my view, from the perspective of international relations and diplomacy, their argument is confused and misleading.
In international law, the term “self-determination” carries special meaning. Its inception and use concerned, in theory, “national self-determination,” and can be traced back from the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776 to Vladimir Lenin’s “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” in 1914 and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s proposed rights of oppressed nations in his Fourteen Points following World War I.
After World War II, a series of international legal documents reaffirmed the “right to self-determination.” These include the Charter of the United Nations and subsequently the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, as well as two international covenants on human rights. Thanks in part to these principles, a group of colonial countries in Asia and Africa were able to achieve independence.
In practice, “self-determination” refers to the rights of people in colonial countries seeking independence. But the U.N. General Assembly also set clear restrictions on this right, declaring that “any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
After the Cold War, “self-determination” was increasingly abused and confused with the concept of “secession.” Certain regions within some countries asked for secession in the name of “self-determination.” Yet such requests have no legal basis in international law. They neither received the support of the majority of people in the countries concerned nor were widely recognized by the international community.
Regardless of whether it means “independence” or “secession,” “self-determination” is completely irrelevant to Hong Kong. In historical terms, Hong Kong was under the effective jurisdiction of the Chinese central government, without interruption, before the Opium War. In legal terms, Beijing resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, and it is clearly stated in China’s Constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.
In cultural terms, the people of Hong Kong and the mainland share the same origin. Bound by blood ties, they both belong to the Chinese culture. Since there has never existed a Hong Kong nation, and Hong Kong is not a colony under foreign rule, there is no issue of “self-determination” in Hong Kong.
Two other topics relating to “self-determination” have also caused confusion. One concerns the “post-2047 arrangements,” and the other is “democratic self-determination.”
According to the Basic Law, the “one country, two systems” principle will remain unchanged for the 50 years following 1997. This means that Hong Kong’s lifestyle and capitalist system is to remain in place for a set period. Yet the “one country” aspect is to remain for good.
What needs to be discussed regarding the “post-2047 arrangements” is the kind of political, economic and social system that will be adopted in Hong Kong under the prerequisite of “one country.” This falls into the purview of a high degree of autonomy mandated by Beijing, not “democratic self-determination” as has been claimed by some.
During Hong Kong’s 150 years under British rule, its people never exercised rights as masters of the city. It was only after the return of Hong Kong to the motherland in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle that Hong Kong began to be administered by its residents with a high degree of autonomy.
Such autonomy is unique and not practiced by subnational units within many federal countries. For example, Hong Kong enjoys the power of final adjudication and pays no taxes to the central government. Even in the U.S., no state is entitled to such a privilege.
If someone continues to advocate “self-determination” in Hong Kong, he or she might not have a correct understanding of the term. To them, I hope this article will help clarify the concept.
But there are also others who are deliberately confusing this concept as a way to stir up trouble. I am afraid that such an attempt will lead Hong Kong onto a dangerous path and undermine the fundamental interests of the country and Hong Kong.
For Hong Kong, the most pressing task is to remain focused on improving its economy and livelihood, bringing into full play its advantages. It is our hope that Hong Kong will embrace new opportunities while developing together with the rest of the country. To play up certain erroneous ideas is in no one’s interest.
Mr. Song is the commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong.
圖1之1 — （明報製圖／資料圖片）
「自 決」是個有特定涵義的國際法語彙。從其產生到應用的歷史看，都涉及到國際關係的理論和實踐。從時間段上看，可以簡單分為二戰前、二戰後和冷戰結束後幾個階 段。「自決」的精神可追溯到美國「獨立宣言」；在20世紀初，列寧寫過一本《論民族自決權》；第一次世界大戰後，美國總統威爾遜在其「十四點和平原則」中 提及「民族自決權」。因此，從起源看，「自決」指的就是「民族自決」。
二戰後，《聯合國憲章》、聯合國大會《給予殖民地國家和人民獨立宣 言》、1966年「人權兩公約」等一系列國際法律文件確認了「自決權」，一批亞洲、非洲等地的殖民地國家獲得了獨立。因此，從實踐看，「自決」就是殖民地 人民爭取獨立的權利。同時，聯合國大會也明確表示，「任何旨在部分或全部分裂國家團結和破壞其領土完整的企圖都與聯合國憲章原則相違背」，對自決權加以限 制。
冷戰結束前後，「自決」概念出現濫用和擴大化迹象，與「分離」混同起來。一些國家的地區以「自決」為藉口提出「分離」要求，但這些所謂 「自決」要求不具備國際法基礎，不被本國大多數人民支持，也未得到國際社會廣泛認可。聯合國前秘書長吳丹曾表示，聯合國「不會接受所謂會員國特定區域有權 從母國分離的原則」。
無論意味着「獨立」還是「分離」，「自決」都與香港隔着十萬八千里遠。從歷史講，香港在鴉片戰爭前一直在中央政府連續 有效管轄之下。從法理講，1997年7月1日中央政府恢復對香港行使主權，國家憲法和《基本法》明確規定了香港是國家不可分離的一部分。從文化講，香港與 內地同宗同源、血脈相連，同屬「中華文化」。既然從來沒有什麼「香港民族」，香港也非外國統治下的殖民地，根本就不存在什麼「自決」問題。
在 英國殖民統治的100多年裏，香港同胞從未享有過當家作主的權利。香港回歸祖國後，在「一國兩制」政策安排下，香港同胞才能真正當家作主，實現「港人治 港」、高度自治。這種高度自治，是很多聯邦制國家內的聯邦主體都不享有的。如香港享有獨立的司法終審權，中央政府不在香港徵稅；而美國的州既無司法終審 權，也要向聯邦政府繳稅。
黃文稱，中國經歷數千年君權統治，「中華人民共和國政府」與「大清政府」，不能相提並論或劃等號，以此否認中國政府對香港的主權。看來黃之鋒既不了解中國5000年歷史，更不了解國際法上國號變更和政府繼承（succession of governments）概念。「國號」是國家的名稱，一國國號的變更並不會改變該國的國際法主體地位；「政府繼承」則涉及某一政府代表國家的資格被新政府取代後，舊政府在國際法上的權利義務轉移給新政府的問題。中華民國政府取代清朝政府，中華人民共和國政府又取代中華民國政府，這只是國號變更，國家主權和領土沒有改變。香港既然是清朝領土，自然也是中華民國領土和中華人民共和國領土。
25 October 2016
Hong Kong Free Press
China’s foreign affairs organ has engaged in an op-ed battle with Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo, after the duo wrote an article on Hongkongers’ right to self-determination.
Ngo, a postgraduate history student of New York University, told HKFP that he anticipated Beijing to be “extremely troubled by calls for self-determination even though that is a right Hong Kongers deserve,” but did not expect that the Chinese government would give such a prompt response.
Wong and Ngo published an article on October 14 about the historical context in which Hong Kong people were denied the right to self-determination in the World Policy Blog, a website run by the think tank World Policy Institute.
Four days later, diplomat Song Zhe of China’s Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong rebutted the Hong Kong duo in the Wall Street Journal. The article, entitled Self-determination in Hong Kong is a non-issue: Historically, legally and culturally, the city belongs to China was published in Chinese in local newspaper Ming Pao last Thursday.
Wong responded to Song’s article in Ming Pao on Saturday, reiterating his view on the denial of Hongkongers’ right to self-determination by the Chinese Communist Party.
In response, the Office wrote a piece again in Ming Pao on Monday, telling Wong to familiarise himself with history and “common sense in international law.” The activists said they will be publishing another response to Song in the Wall Street Journal.
“I think this will be going back and forth,” said Ngo, calling the exchange between Chinese officials and Hong Kong activists “unprecedented.”
Ngo said he believed Beijing engages in the public discussion because it wants to make their case to the international community — for the same reason that he and Wong wrote the first article. He said: “Self-determination is a right Hong Kongers deserve, so Hong Kongers certainly need a better understanding of it.”
Ngo said that he expected Beijing to continue its attacks on self-determination advocates in Hong Kong. “But this is an inevitable direction that we are now headed toward, as reflected in last month’s LegCo election results,” he said, referring to the election of several self-determination advocates into Hong Kong’s legislature, including Wong’s colleague Nathan Law of the Demosistō party.
The activist said that writing articles in local and international newspapers helps facilitate the discussion, “which may otherwise be difficult elsewhere,” as self-determination is less easy to understand than the concepts of democracy and independence. Self-determination also “inevitably relates to world history and international law,” Ngo added.
Wong and Ngo argued that when Hong Kong’s status as a non-self-governing territory was removed at China’s request at the United Nations in 1972, the move effectively stripped Hong Kong of its right to self-determination as guaranteed by the UN Charter to all former colonies.
After 1972, “Hong Kong continued to be, by every definition, a British colony for another quarter-century,” said Ngo. “Removing it from the list of non-self-governing territories is a historical mistake.”
In his first op-ed, Song said Hong Kong was under the Chinese government’s effective control before the Opium War, and that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China as stipulated by the territory’s mini-constitution. Hong Kong also shares the same cultural origins with China. The diplomat concluded that there has never been a “Hong Kong nation” and hence self-determination is a non-issue.
Wong rejected Song’s argument, saying that Hong Kong was not part of the People’s Republic China when it was established in 1949, but had been a British colony since 1842. “This shows that Hong Kong was indeed entitled to self-determination in accordance with international law,” said Wong.
The duo wrote in the World Policy Blog earlier: “We ought to regain Hong Kongers’ right to self-determination from the international community so that the people, rather than the authoritarian regime in Beijing, can truly decide our own future.”
How China stripped Hong Kong of its right to self-determination in 1972 — and distorted history
8 November 2016
Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo
Hong Kong Free Press
originally published in Chinese on The Initium. Translated by Jeffrey Ngo.
44 years ago last week, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2908 by a 99:5 vote. Among its effects were the removal of Hong Kong and Macau from the U.N. list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Consequently, the peoples of Hong Kong and Macau — as colonised peoples — lost their right to self-determination granted by the U.N.’s 1960 “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”
In an op-ed in Ming Pao last month, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hong Kong interpreted this episode as 99 U.N. member states agreeing that “Hong Kong did not fall within the ambit of colonisation.” U.N. documents from 1972 associated with this resolution, however, indicate that this view is extremely misleading.
So what actually happened?
Less than four months after the People’s Republic of China formally became a U.N. member state in November 1971, Huang Hua, its ambassador to the U.N., rushed to issue a letter (File A/AC.109/396) to the Special Committee on Decolonisation that expressed strong opposition to the U.N.’s classification of Hong Kong and Macau as colonies.
Hong Kong and Macau were instead “part of Chinese territory occupied by the British and Portuguese authorities,” Huang declared unilaterally. “The settlement of the questions of Hong Kong and Macau is entirely within China’s sovereign right… The United Nations has no right to discuss these questions.”
In response, the chairman of the committee assented to China’s demand by giving recommendations to the General Assembly through the committee’s annual report of 1972 based exactly on Huang’s letter.
Yet this committee report of 1972 (File A/8723/Rev.1) had five volumes totalling 1,198 pages, of which only paragraph 183 in page 64 of volume I mentioned the question of Hong Kong and Macau — this is undoubtedly a very trivial part of the entire document. Moreover, because periodical reports of this nature intended only to record and cover the work of each committee, they usually received negligible attention from the General Assembly, which seldom had any reason to veto them.
More importantly, the General Assembly had just been drafting a resolution on decolonisation at the time the report was submitted. Upon acknowledging the committee’s work in section 2 of the resolution, passing its annual report as a procedural convention was included in section 3, which altogether was subject to a single vote.
This resolution, numbered 2908 and entitled the “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” (File A/RES/2908(XXVII)), happens to be the one mentioned in the beginning of this article. As its name suggests, the 18-section resolution aimed to support the U.N. in further accelerating global decolonisation. Section 5 condemned colonialism, for example, while section 6 reaffirmed the U.N.’s “recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the colonial peoples and peoples under alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal.”
It is manifest, based on verbatim records of the plenary meetings in which the resolution was discussed, that most — if not all — representatives of member states who voted for the resolution did so because they wished to see without delay the liberation of colonised peoples; it was not a vote on Huang’s demand.
There are good reasons, in addition, to doubt whether these representatives were even aware of such controversy at the time they cast their vote: first, the question of Hong Kong and Macau was tremendously obscure in the report, which contained over a thousand pages; second, the report itself was not the main point of the resolution.
Precisely because whether Hong Kong and Macau should be removed from the U.N. list of Non-Self-Governing Territories had not been brought up as the basis of a separate resolution, the General Assembly never adequately debated and voted on it, ultimately leading to the historical mistake in 1972.
Flagrant distortion of history
That Hong Kong and Macau continued to be British and Portuguese colonies, respectively, for the next 25 and 27 years is an indisputable reality with wide international consensus. This fact is unrecognised only by China and the U.N., whereas Britain and Portugal as suzerain powers do not dare to dispute it. As a result, the people of Hong Kong and Macau had lost a voice in their own future.
Either way, it is a flagrant distortion of historical facts for China today to imply deliberately that 99 member states were opposed to the peoples of Hong Kong and Macau exercising their right to self-determination on November 2, 1972, when in fact those 99 member states had basically voted for the exact opposite — in support of Non-Self-Governing Peoples to exercise their right to self-determination.
Understanding this episode is pivotal to understanding the ongoing self-determination movement in Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong is the Secretary-General of the Demosistō party. Jeffrey Ngo is a master’s student of Global Histories at New York University.
Hong Kong’s Protest Leaders Demand Self-Determination
The United Nations and the United Kingdom tossed Hong Kong from one colonial master to another.
Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo
November 9, 2016
Since Hong Kong’s democratic movement began some three decades ago, Hong Kongers have relied on Beijing’s good will to achieve democracy. But instead of a fully democratic legislature and a directly elected government, all we have received is increased interference from Beijing to limit our freedoms. It’s time to advance our struggle to achieving the right to self-determination rather than mere universal suffrage under Chinese rule. The people of Hong Kong must challenge the legitimacy of our existing constitution.
Both the Charter of the United Nations and the U.N.’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples identify self-determination as a fundamental right of all colonized peoples, which it monitored through a catalog of non-self-governing territories. Both Hong Kong, then a British colony, and Macau, governed by Portugal, were rightly included on that list.
The People’s Republic of China, however, strongly protested. In March 1972, less than four months after it joined the U.N., it demanded a reclassification. “Hong Kong and Macau are part of Chinese territory occupied by the British and Portuguese authorities,” argued Huang Hua, the P.R.C.’s permanent representative. “The United Nations has no right to discuss these questions.”
Facing no significant opposition, even from Britain or Portugal, the U.N. promptly complied. Whereas most other colonies would eventually achieve self-governance, often but not necessarily through forming new, independent nation-states, Hong Kong and Macau were essentially tossed from one colonial master to another. The very institution designed to defend non-self-governing peoples and their right to self-determination facilitated the violation of that right.
Today, Beijing maintains the same argument. “Hong Kong was under the effective jurisdiction of the Chinese central government, without interruption, before the Opium War,” Song Zhe, the commissioner of the Chinese foreign ministry in Hong Kong, recently wrote on these pages. Referring to Hong Kong’s constitutional document, Mr. Song continued: “It is clearly stated in . . . Hong Kong’s Basic Law that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.”
This is an inversion of historical fact. The 1841 colonization of Hong Kong was the result of a military conflict between the Qing empire and British empire. Hong Kong went on to develop its own unique culture shaped by people who chose to leave China and embrace British colonial institutions. The P.R.C. wasn’t established as a nation-state until 1949, more than a century later.
Moreover, when the P.R.C. and Britain were contemplating the future of Hong Kong in the early 1980s, Deng Xiaoping not only insisted on taking over the British colony but also on cutting Hong Kongers out of the negotiations. Britain honored Deng’s wishes, and Hong Kongers were kept from participating in discussions regarding their own sovereignty.
The transition could have been an opportunity to enshrine Hong Kongers’ right to self-determination in the city’s constitutional documents. Instead, the resulting Sino-British Joint Declaration, and later the Basic Law — drafted by a committee dominated by Beijing loyalists — completed the process of stripping Hong Kongers of this right.
Following the handover to China in 1997, the “one country, two systems” model was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy” and the preservation of its civil institutions. But the reality has proved otherwise.
Hong Kong’s chief executive is selected by a small committee controlled by pro-Beijing members. The pro-democracy opposition in the Legislative Council is consistently in the minority despite receiving the majority of popular votes, as only half the seats are directly elected. In Beijing, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has the power to override decisions made by Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. All three branches of our government are subordinate to the P.R.C.
In response, some radicals in Hong Kong have been quick to instigate xenophobic and nationalistic sentiments. But this is unnecessary. Neither sovereignty nor nationalism are prerequisites to self-determination. That right, according to the U.N., applies to all non-self-governing peoples. It is a fundamental right, based in history, that Hong Kongers deserve to exercise.
Mr. Wong is the secretary-general and co-founder of Demosistō, a political party in Hong Kong. Mr. Ngo is a master’s student in history at New York University.
Autonomy in Hong Kong is at a 20-year low
By Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo
January 25, 2017
Joshua Wong is the secretary general and co-founder of Demosisto, a political party in Hong Kong. Jeffrey Ngo is a master’s degree student in global histories at New York University.
“You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body,” Mahatma Gandhi, the prominent icon of nonviolent civil disobedience, once said. “But you will never imprison my mind.”
Our friend Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, a youth political party, repeated these words at the Hong Kong Legislative Council inauguration ceremony last October. “I would never serve a regime that murders its own people,” he added, before reading the official oath in full. For this, he will be going to court early March to face a lawsuit filed by Hong Kong’s Department of Justice, which intends to unseat him.
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He’s not alone, as the government has also launched the same legal challenge against three of his colleagues in the opposition camp. While ludicrous in every way, this all-out effort by an undemocratically appointed administration, using taxpayer money, to remove democratically elected legislators from office is unfortunately far from an isolated incident. Rather, it’s consistent with the increasing pressure Beijing has been exerting on Hong Kong in order to strengthen control of our city.
As core members of Law’s campaign team, we fought extremely hard to send the former Umbrella Movement student leader into our legislative council. History was made when he won a seat in September at age 23, becoming the youngest legislator ever elected in Hong Kong. He represents the democracy movement of this generation and the desperate call for self-determination to decide Hong Kong’s uncertain future.
The transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty on July 1, 1997, from Britain to China was a deal the two powers had negotiated behind closed doors. Hong Kongers took no part in it except for being promised that the existing political and economic systems would remain unchanged for half a century.
Months before the handover’s 20th anniversary this year, Hong Kong is at its lowest point.
A brutal assault on our democratic system began back in the summer. The Electoral Affairs Commission explicitly cited intolerable political stance as the reason for barring six otherwise qualified candidates from running in the September election, including Chan Ho Tin, a vocal pro-independence activist of the Hong Kong National Party, and Alice Lai of the Conservative Party, which calls for a return to British rule.
Amid the chaos, the party Youngspiration slipped through the screening process and was allowed to contest. The independence-leaning group sent three candidates, two of whom — Baggio Leung, 30, and Yau Wai Ching, 25 — each won a seat. But as they were sworn in, they changed the words of their oaths and waved a flag declaring “Hong Kong is not China.” The Department of Justice immediately took the matter to court.
Then, on Nov. 7, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress broke protocol by intervening in the still ongoing trial. The top Chinese legislative body issued a so-called “interpretation” of the Basic Law — Hong Kong’s constitutional document — explicitly requiring incoming legislators to either “sincerely and solemnly” pledge loyalty to the regime or “be treated as declining to take the oath.” Abiding by it, the local court consequently disqualified Leung and Yau, who have been ordered to return $240,00 in salaries and operating funds to the Legislative Council. Adding to that debt are the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees the Youngspiration duo is expected to pay for the defeat.
To say the least, the notion that Law, who is still trying to complete his college degree part-time, may likewise be forced into bankruptcy, deeply troubles us. He did no more than choose to quote Gandhi and promise to be loyal only to his voters.
Beijing’s power of “interpretation,” as its name suggests, is much more than overriding the judicial system in Hong Kong: It’s a power to rewrite existing laws, twisting them in whatever way is most suitable to the communist regime’s political agenda and, by definition, it’s applicable retroactively to prior actions committed. As this specific “interpretation” establishes narrow guidelines for the oath-taking process, it conveniently permits the Hong Kong government to file endless lawsuits against anyone in the opposition it deems inauthentic — a very subjective criterion. In essence, Beijing is interfering with Hong Kong’s affairs by inviting the executive branch’s use of the judiciary branch to delegitimize the legislative branch. It’s a complete wreckage of the separation of powers.
The autonomy of Hong Kong is clearly at stake. In total, the six legislators dragged into this legal challenge (five of whom were elected for the first time) have received 185,727 votes between them, reflecting the views of a significant voter base.
But it’s the enlargement of this battle that’s most worrisome, for it reveals the Chinese leadership’s deep insecurities and belief that harmony can be achieved only when all those voicing disagreement are ousted. In the past, Beijing went after the most outspoken separatists. In the present, Beijing is coming after those who call for self-determination. In the future, Beijing may come after those who merely support multi-party democracy in the mainland.
The world will once again turn its attention to our city in the year ahead. Since the incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying is not seeking another term, the chief executive election, to be held in March, will significantly alter Hong Kong’s path for the next half-decade to come, for better or worse. President Xi Jinping seems undecided at this point on whether to handpick a hard-liner in order to impose tighter control, or more of a moderate in hopes of easing political tensions, as Leung’s successor. Either way, Beijing is almost certainly going to use the handover anniversary, on July 1, as an occasion to celebrate the successful implementation of “One Country, Two Systems” — as it has always claimed.
Recent events, as we hope the international community will realize, indicate otherwise.