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Transcript of remarks by CS and SCMA at press conference on "Green Paper on Constitutional Development"

    Following are the remarks (English portion) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Henry Tang and the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, to the media on the "Green Paper on Constitutional Development" at the Conference Hall, Central Government Offices, New Annexe, this afternoon (July 11):

Reporter: What can you say to convince people that in constructing this multiple choice exam you have given us, this consultation paper, that you are not seeking to confuse people, string out the whole thing and buy time. And Mr Lam, Paragraph 5.16, how is it that doing Legco in one go would not be inconsistent with gradual approach towards universal suffrage.

Chief Secretary for Administration: First, your question regarding the choices. We should never underestimate the community's intelligence because this issue has been in the public arena for many years, and indeed, I believe that Hong Kong people are intelligent enough to have fairly extensive knowledge about what kind of universal suffrage they would wish to achieve and what timeframe they are thinking about. That's why we have to distil the key elements of achieving universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law into this consultation document and crystallise these elements, so that the public can give their views very specifically on those key elements.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: This is the only way we can do justice to the 300-plus submissions that we have received. If, out of 323 submissions and recommendations that we have received, we only set out three sets of proposals in this green paper, we wouldn't be doing justice to the rest of the world. We have methodically laid out for everybody to understand what are the key issues to be addressed and as the Chief Secretary has outlined, there are about five key elements on which we need to make a choice. So it's not that complicated.  As regards Paragraph 5.16,  I suppose your question is whether going for universal suffrage of Legislative Council in one go is consistent with the Basic Law. Let me explain that at this stage, since we are doing a green paper public consultation exercise we are more liberal with the ideas that we take on board. We only discard those ideas which are definitely not consistent with the Basic Law.  For example, if there is a proposal which suggests we should not establish a nominating committee, that's not consistent with the Basic Law, so we put it to one side. For example, last year we discussed the possibility of adopting a bicameral system for the Legislative Council that would require some amendments to the Basic Law, so we put that to one side. At this stage, most of the other ideas do not fall into that category which is definitely inconsistent with the Basic Law.   So let's discuss, let's see how far we can go. But of course, at a later stage we need to propose amendments to Annexes I and II of the Basic Law. We also need, at a further later stage, to deal with local legislation. At those two stages we must adopt proposals which are consistent with the Basic Law.

Reporter: My question is for the Chief Secretary. During the first 10 years here we have seen amazing economic convergence with China, with Pearl River Delta. To what extent going forward do you think political convergence is an important question. Do you expect the pace of democratic reform in Hong Kong is tethered, or do you see it as tethered to the pace of political reform in China?

Chief Secretary for Administration: Under the "One Country, Two Systems" the economic development and the political development in Hong Kong are clearly laid out under the Basic Law. So I think the short answer to your question is we - both us and the Central People's Government - will follow the Basic Law to the letter. Both governments are sincere to adhere to both the word as well as the spirit of the Basic law to ensure the continuous success of "One Country, Two Systems".

Reporter: I want to follow up my earlier question and the comments you have made since. Mr Tang and Mr Lam, you have both said you removed those things which are obviously inconsistent with the Basic Law. You have sought to be liberal in including things, which means some things might or might not be consistent with the Basic Law and you are going to have to bring amendments to Annexes I and II. Before you bring the annexes  I think you would want to assure yourselves that you are not bringing something that's inconsistent. Can you rule out now or will you be seeking an interpretation on whatever you bring forward before you seek those amendments?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I think the clear and direct answer to your question is that at this stage the most important thing is for the Hong Kong community to come to a consensual view on how to implement universal suffrage. It will then be up to this government to ensure that any proposed amendments to Annexes I and II of the Basic Law will be legally sound, and of course, at the appropriate stage we will seek legal advice. I also think that the provisions of Annexes I and II of Articles 45 and 68 are now all there for us to see, to seek to implement, and at this stage it is unproductive to speculate as to whether we need to seek an interpretation of the Basic Law. This government has made it clear on previous occasions that interpretation to the Basic Law are not lightly to be sought and at this stage I see no need to do so.

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

Ends/Wednesday, July 11, 2007