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Building consensus more important

"We should look forward and fulfill our constitutional obligation under the Basic Law to pass the national security bill into law. At the same time, we should continue to implement the principles of 'One Country, Two Systems' and 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong people' to protect the human rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people," the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, said at the Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting today (June 25).

Mr Lam also said that government officials and Legislative Councillors should all make their best endeavours to widen the common ground in furthering Hong Kong's constitutional development beyond 2007.

He considered that overcoming this challenge of building consensus was much more meaningful and important than public demonstrations. Securing consensus on constitutional development would require political wisdom, courage and resolution. Mr Lam firmly believed that if all parties concerned were willing to go down the route of building consensus, there would be hope and a future for Hong Kong's constitutional development.

Responding to the motion moved by the Hon Lee Cheuk-yan, Mr Lam said that for quite a long period before reunification in 1997, many Hong Kong people did not have sufficient confidence and felt perplexed.

These worries had now been swept away. In time, it would also become demonstrably clear that the concerns about Article 23 were unfounded.

He said that in the six years since reunification, the support of Hong Kong people for the Central People's Government had grown and their confidence in the leaders of the country had been enhanced.

Mr Lam cited three examples to illustrate the Central People's Government's readiness to help Hong Kong ride out prevailing difficulties according to the principle of "One Country, Two Systems".

The first example was when Vice-Premier Wu Yi attended the annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, she lobbied very hard for WHO's support to have the travel advisory against Hong Kong lifted.

The second example was the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement which the Mainland and Hong Kong would enter into by the end of June in a bid to facilitate Hong Kong's economic restructuring and recovery.

This arrangement would enable various Hong Kong products to be imported into the Mainland at zero tariff and would provide new opportunities for our service industries and professionals to enter the Mainland market.

The third example was that both before and after reunification, the Central People's Government strongly supported that arrangements should be made to facilitate HKSAR passport holders to travel overseas for holiday or business purpose. With the support of the Central People's Government, our immigration authorities had secured visa-free access to about 120 countries and regions for HKSAR passport holders.

Mr Lam said that the Central People's Government cared about the well being of Hong Kong people and was willing to help Hong Kong resolve problems according to the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle.

He said that the Basic Law specifically required and empowered the HKSAR Government to enact legislation on its own to prohibit any acts that would put national security at risk. This clearly demonstrated realisation of the principle of the 'One Country, Two Systems' and the confidence which the Central People's Government had placed in the HKSAR. The legislation which had been proposed was in full compliance with the requirements and legislative intent of the Basic Law.

As for the constitutional development of the HKSAR, Mr Lam said that through the implementation of the Basic Law and the principle of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong', Hong Kong people now had more opportunities to participate in the governance of Hong Kong, as compared with the period prior to reunification.

He said that the Chief Executive was elected by an Election Committee representing the different sectors of the community.

Hong Kong had a fully elected legislature. Although the functional constituency and geographical constituency seats were returned through different electoral methods, both categories represented important constituencies.

Since reunification, direct elections to the LegCo had increased progressively.

The Basic Law had conferred a very important role upon LegCo in the review of post-2007 constitutional development - any amendment proposals had to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of all the Members of LegCo.

Mr Lam stressed that Members of different political affiliations would need to be pragmatic, and to be prepared to respect and accommodate different opinions.

"Only on this basis, would we be in a better position to create more room for progress to be made in constitutional development beyond 2007," he said.

End/Wednesday, June 25, 2003