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Press Briefings & Releases

Press Briefings & Releases

LC: Speech by Chief Secretary for Administration on motion on "Respecting and complying with the principles prescribed in the Basic Law"

Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang,on the motion on "Respecting and complying with the principles prescribed in the Basic Law" moved by Hon James To Kun-sun at the Legislative Council today (March 17) (Translation):

Madam President,

When President Hu Jingtao met the Chief Executive on December 3, 2003, he expressed the concern of the Central Authorities towards the constitutional development in HKSAR. On January 7 this year, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address the establishment of a Task Force with members including the Secretary for Justice, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs and me to examine in depth the principles and legislative process in the Basic Law relating to constitutional development, and to consult the relevant departments of the Central Authorities and to listen to the views of the public on the issues. Against this background, it may not be far from truth to say that the local community has formally commenced the discussion on constitutional development since this January.

By now, political parties and political commentary groups are the most vocal in expressing their stances and opinions. Some organisations have also carried out opinion polls on issues relating to constitutional development. The Task Force has adopted a frank, open and transparent attitude in listening to the views of different sectors of the community. Since its establishment in mid January, the Task Force has reached out to a number of groups and individuals to listen to their views on the principles and legislative process relating to constitutional development. Relevant papers have also been uploaded on a dedicated website and placed in Districts Offices. Publicity drive has been carried out through various channels like TV, radios and the press to invite public comments.

Constitutional development - a complicated issue

Constitutional development is a complicated issue. It is not a simple proposal, nor merely a question relating to election methods. Rather it is an issue that goes deeper and touches some other matters, including the interests of different social sectors, the governance of Hong Kong in future, economic prosperity, social stability as well as the relationship between the Central Authorities and Hong Kong. I hope Honourable Members as well as political groups and those involved in politics could help the public appreciate the complexities involved. Never shall we treat Hong Kong as a guinea pig by giving some sort of political systems a trial in the territory. Any constitutional development in Hong Kong has to comply with the Basic Law and take forward very cautiously.

Politics is never short of controversy. We expect to see diverse views and even disputes over our constitutional development in the community. Nevertheless, we hope all sectors in the community would be engaged in sensible discussion but not a display of hotheadedness. What the general public aspires for and needs is a rational and comprehensive discussion.

Sensible and extensive discussion

Members may recall that when the Task Force was established in January, it had expressed its intention to meet the relevant departments of the Central Authorities as soon as practicable to find out the specific concerns of the Central Authorities over the constitutional development of Hong Kong. Subsequently, the Task Force visited Beijing in early February this year under the arrangement of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO). As promised, we fully reflected the views of the groups and individuals we had met to the relevant departments of Central Authorities and also conveyed to them the general aspirations of Hong Kong people for an improved political system. I had also related the concern of the Central Authorities to Honourable Members of this Council on February 11. This is how the Task Force works as a bridge between the HKSAR and the Central Authorities. It also reflects the constitutional role of the SAR: Hong Kong is directly under the charge of the Central Authorities and is an integral part of our country under the "One Country, Two Systems" and the Basic Law. While Hong Kong is free to discuss its constitutional development, it also has to consult the Central Authorities and secure its support.

As you are all aware, officials of the Central Authorities have repeatedly made it clear that "two systems" has to be implemented under the premise of "one country"; that "a high degree of autonomy" is to be exercised under the authorisation of the Central Authorities; and that constitutional development, while being our internal affair, has to obtain the consent of the Central Authorities.

I trust the Central Authorities are keen to see that different sectors of our community respect and observe the principle that the Central Authorities enjoy the right and responsibility to scrutinise and give their consent to our constitutional development. This principle is subscribed by groups and individuals met by the Task Force. I hope all of us can adopt a sensible attitude towards the whole process of our discussion with the Central Authorities. As sectors in Hong Kong may hold different views on constitutional development, it is thus only natural that the Central Authorities may have their own views. However, it does not amount to a confrontation between us, or that we are in contention for something. The guiding principle of "one country, two systems" laid down by the Central Authorities is precisely introduced to preserve the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong which is dear to members of our community. To put it in a nutshell, both the Central Authorities and Hong Kong share the same interests. I hope members of the public will make a soberly judgement on this issue.

Establishing consensus is the real challenge

Indeed, in accordance with the Basic Law, any amendment to the methods for selection of the Chief Executive and the formation for the Legislative Council must secure the approval of the Legislative Council, the Chief Executive and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. No amendment is possible without the support of any one of them. Therefore, the crux of the matter lies not only in who has the legal authority to move the amendment to the election method, but more importantly, a political consensus must be reached between the three parties through dialogues. This is the right way to take forward matters relating to constitutional development. This is precisely the real challenge that the Task Force, the Legislative Council and the community have to face in the future.

Cautious not hasty

Some Members remarked that the principles now under discussion are too shallow and do not merit our time and efforts. They thought that all the problems now before us would be solved only if we care to turn our discussion directly to the possible options available for our constitutional development. Political operation, however, is not as simple as that, isn't it? I think we should take forward the matter cautiously.

First of all, for constitutional development, it is always the case that a set of principles must be established before the design of any specific systems. It is difficult to imagine that options could be worked out for public consideration and selection without first going through the process of thorough discussion of some matters of principles for public consensus. "Principle" represents the generally agreed common interests while "option" means the choices upon such a foundation open to the public.

Besides, when the Task Force paid a visit to Beijing in early February, relevant departments in the Central Authorities clearly pointed out that discussion on the constitutional development of the HKSARG should first focus on the principles enshrined in the Basic Law. Proposals on constitutional development put forward in the course of discussion should also comply with the principles and legislative process in the Basic Law. This being the case, mutual understanding in this respect should be reached. Only on this solid foundation could constitutional development take the next step forward. If Hong Kong takes a shortcut by putting forward proposals hastily and unilaterally, it will breach its constitutional obligation that discussion on matters relating to constitutional development must be held with the Central Authorities. Moreover, in political reality, if concrete proposals put forward in future do not go in line with the principles of the Basic Law, it will deal a blow to the local community and give rise to more controversies. In the end, it is the people of Hong Kong who suffer.

The importance of some concrete principles

While, on the surface, the principles relating to constitutional development might not seem to be as tangible as constitutional proposals, they have in practice a bearing upon the interests of the people and indeed the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.

For example, on the method of the two elections, the Basic Law stipulates that it shall be formulated in the light of the actual situation in the SAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. In this regard, the views received by the Task Force on the issues relating to the "actual situation" as well as "gradual and orderly process" have been mixed. According to some, one need not look further than the performance of our governance or the mass demonstration last year to make a decision while others believe that we should examine both the popularity of our political parties and the availability of a pool of competent politicians. Any incongruity between our political hardware and software would be detrimental to the community.

In addition, in presenting the draft Basic Law and relevant papers to the 7th National People's Congress in 1990, Mr Ji Pengfei, the then Director of HKMAO stated that the political structure of Hong Kong must be formed in a way which gave due regard to the interests of all sectors of the community and would facilitate the development of the capitalist economy. In this connection, functional constituencies were introduced to the Legislative Council to realise the original intention of the principle of "balanced participation". Now if the two election methods are to be amended, then we must give due consideration as to whether this principle is adhered to. Some people hold that the public must see to it that their constituencies or sectors have the necessary muscles and are well represented in the Legislative Council, and that the formulation of public policies is in the interests of the capitalist economy as well as the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

In the course of the drafting of the Basic Law, it was decided as a result of in-depth discussion that "executive-led" governance had been a time-honoured and integral part of Hong Kong's political system and should be left intact. And this principle of "executive-led" governance had been since enshrined in the relevant articles of the Basic Law.

For example, according to Article 48 of the Basic Law, the Chief Executive will lead the government of the SAR and will be responsible for deciding on government policies and appointing and removing holders of public office, while the government will be responsible for preparing budgets and initiating bills.

Furthermore, the Chief Executive also plays an important role in the legislative process. The bills passed by the Legislative Council have to be signed and promulgated by the Chief Executive before coming into effect. In case where the bills passed by the Legislative Council, in the opinion of the Chief Executive, are not in line with the overall interests of the HKSAR, he can return the bills to the Legislative Council within three months for reconsideration.

"Executive-led" has become the main principle underlying the constitutional development of the HKSAR. It serves to promote administrative efficiency and maintain effective governance. Moreover, the relevant departments of the Central Authorities have also pointed out that, in accordance with the "Basic Law", the Chief Executive is accountable to the Central Authorities as well as the HKSAR. As such, to perform the dual roles at the same time, the "Executive-led" principle should be upheld.

Therefore, when considering whether it is necessary, or how, to change the method of selection of the Chief Executive and formation for the Legislative Council, we should carefully study whether the proposals would affect our executive-led political system framework as well as in what ways it can be perfected and strengthened.

The groups and individuals that the Task Force have met so far only made a few comments on this principle. As such, I wish all of us could give this principle more thought for in-depth discussion.

Patriotism towards China and Hong Kong logical and reasonable

There has also been intense debate lately over the principle that "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" should mean the administration of Hong Kong affairs with patriots forming the main body of administrators. I hope the community can deal with this issue in a calm and mature manner. The administration of Hong Kong affairs with patriots forming the main body of administrators has been the long-term policy governing the rule of Hong Kong introduced by our country since 1980's. The fact that now the Central Authorities reiterates this policy amid discussion on constitutional development in the HKSAR is to tell us that this policy or position is not going to change.

As I have mentioned time and again, the public at large understands that it is in the best interest of our community if Hong Kong is ruled by Hong Kong people who will harm neither the interests of our nation nor that of Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong had been historically separated from our motherland for a period of time, we know well at the bottom of our heart that it is our own country which safeguards Hong Kong's interests and comes to our help instantly in times of difficulties, be it during the financial turmoil or the outbreak of SARS, with unreserved support and unflagging attention, and without expecting anything from us in return. Members of the community also take pride in our nation's remarkable achievement.

Our love for our country comes from our hearts and is manifested in our deeds. I believe that Hong Kong people will form their own judgements on their administrators. As we all know, our elections have all along been held in accordance with the election legislation stipulated in the Basic Law.

Hong Kong people are reasonable and sensible. They act in a pragmatic and down-to-earth manner, and prefers to take a rational and middle-of-the-road approach. I hope you all will endeavour to help the public thoroughly analyse and rationally discuss issues relating to constitutional development in accordance with the Basic Law, while bearing the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong in mind. It is already stipulated in the Basic Law that universal suffrage is the ultimate goal. Now what left for us to consider are the pace of and the arrangements for the on-going constitutional development.


The Task Force will complete its exercise to gather views from organisations and individuals in the community in late March. We will then brief members again on the views the Task Force has collected. Moreover, copies of submissions, except those made by respondents who have expressed wishes for anonymity, will continue to be deposited in the Public Enquiry Service Centres (PESCs) of five District Offices for public inspection. We will also liaise with the HKMAO to make the necessary arrangements for meeting the relevant departments of the Central Authorities to reflect the local sentiment.

I must stress here that both the Central Authorities and the SAR Government will handle the constitutional development fully in line with the principle and legislative process in the Basic Law. And in fact since the reunification, the Central Authorities has strictly upheld the principle of "one country, two systems" whilst the SAR Government is also running Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law. I hope Hon James TO would take note of this.

I believe the Central Authorities, with its selfless care and support for Hong Kong, will work with us to map out the best possible arrangement for our constitutional development, which will maintain the lifestyle of the local people, as well as the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.

With these remarks, I urge Honourable Members to vote against Hon James To's motion, and support Hon Tam Yiu-chung's amended motion.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ends/Wednesday, March 17, 2004


2004 | Important notices Last revision date: 1 July 2007
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