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Transcript of SCA's stand-up briefing

Following is the transcript (English portion) of a stand-up briefing given by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, today (June 18):

SCA: Earlier today, I have written to the United States Consul-General to give him my response regarding the recent commentary that he made about the constitutional developments in Hong Kong and Basic Law Article 23 legislation.

The provisions in the Basic Law concerning National Security legislation and constitutional developments are very different in nature. Articles 45 and 68 provide that in pursuing constitutional development in Hong Kong, we shall have regard to the actual situation; we should endeavour to make gradual and orderly progress, and with the ultimate aim of attaining universal suffrage. We are going through this process everyday.

Article 23 is very different. It does not provide that we should pursue enactment of legislation (by making)gradual and orderly progress. It enables and requires the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to enact the legislation on its own. Thus, having conducted research over several years, and having conducted wide public consultation, we have decided that this is now the appropriate time to enact legislation on national security.

In so far as constitutional development is concerned, the gradual and orderly progress is exemplified, for example, in Annex II of the Basic Law. Annex II provides that the legislature shall progressively have a higher proportion of directly elected seats for three terms after reunification. So the contrast is very clear. As regards constitutional development, we should continue to make gradual and orderly progress. We should have regard to the actual situation in Hong Kong, and we should endeavour to attain the ultimate aim of achieving universal suffrage.

So far as Article 23 is concerned, it has empowered and enabled HKSAR to enact legislation on its own.

The US Consul-General also referred to the protection of human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. The track record of Hong Kong in the six years since reunification is very clear. Human rights and freedoms have been fully protected in Hong Kong. It has been achieved through a range of institutions: the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights both enable us to protect human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. The judicial system, the courts of Hong Kong protect very vigilantly rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people according to common law principles and the Basic Law. We also have in Hong Kong an open and transparent government which is accountable to the legislature under the Basic Law. We also have the free press in Hong Kong which monitors and exercises the prerogative of public scrutiny day in, day out, consistently and persistently. We have every intention of keeping in place these protections for the human rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people.

So that summarises the letter which I sent to the United States Consul-General.

Reporter: Do you think your letter to Mr Keith will be able to dismiss or allay his fear and concern about Article 23?

SCA: I think the proof of pudding is in the eating. Prior to 1997, many foreign governments and chambers of commerce expressed doubts about the viability of "One Country, Two Systems". During the 13 transitional years between 1984 and 1997, we communicated with these foreign bodies very proactively, and the communication has proven to be useful. Foreign investments have remained in Hong Kong. Foreign governments continue to welcome Hong Kong's students to go to their countries to further their tertiary education, to do graduate school research.

So as an international city, it is important for Hong Kong to continue to maintain such communication with foreign governments, and I think the concepts which I put to him (USCG) today regarding the relevant Basic Law provisions are important, because the Basic Law empowers and requires the HKSAR to enact national security legislation. This is very specific and very clear. As regards constitutional development, it requires Hong Kong to go through a process of making gradual and orderly progress with the ultimate of obtaining universal suffrage. So the contrast is there. And I think deeper, wider, and more proactive communication with the consulate and his colleagues is important.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript)

End/Wednesday, June 18, 2003