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SCA: Central Authorities have role in constitutional development

The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, said today (December 12) that the Central Authorities had a constitutional role to play in matters related to constitutional development of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

He said, "Under 'One Country, Two Systems', the Basic Law has authorised the HKSAR to exercise a high degree of autonomy but not complete self-rule.

"If there is a need to amend the method for the selection of the Chief Executive, the approval of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is required."

Mr Lam was speaking at a seminar entitled, "Stability, Prosperity and Democratic Development", jointly organised by the Civic Exchange, Department of Public and Social Administration of City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Democratic Development Network and the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation.

He said that the review on constitutional development beyond 2007 had to be dealt with in accordance with the procedures laid down in Annexes I and II of the Basic Law, ie, any proposals put forth required the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and had to be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval or for the record.

Mr Lam said, "The achievements of maintaining the systems of Hong Kong and securing the full implementation of 'One Country, Two Systems' after the transition are invaluable."

He pointed out that the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" had provided a solid foundation for the stability and prosperity of HKSAR. He cited a few examples.

He said, "Firstly, on the rule of law, the HKSAR continues to apply the common law system after the transition and the Court of Final Appeal has also been established. All court cases can now be settled within the HKSAR.

"Secondly, Hong Kong is an international city. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong can deal with a wide range of external affairs.

"Thus, after the transition in 1997, Hong Kong continues to participate in more than 30 international organisations including the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Also, over 200 multilateral agreements continue to apply to Hong Kong," he said.

"Thirdly, Hong Kong is an international financial centre. According to the Basic Law, the Hong Kong dollar continues to circulate and Hong Kong's financial system has been maintained.

"The HKSAR passport provides considerable travel convenience to Hong Kong people. HKSAR passport holders can now travel to more than 120 countries and territories visa-free," he said.

Mr Lam said that likewise the provisions in the Basic Law on political structure had made a contribution in maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.

"The Basic Law has laid down a blueprint for constitutional development for the first 10 years after the transition. The purpose is to allow Hong Kong to have a period of stability of 10 years.

"Under the Basic Law, our electoral systems can develop in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress and in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong, with the ultimate aim of attaining universal suffrage.

"Under the design of the Basic Law, the political, economic and social systems of Hong Kong have been maintained. Furthermore, new developments are possible," he added.

He said that the conclusion of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with Mainland China in June this year was a clear example.

Mr Lam said that no one envisaged that Hong Kong could conclude a free trade agreement with Mainland China when the Joint Declaration was signed and the Basic Law was promulgated.

He said that this had been made possible, because the Basic Law allowed Hong Kong to maintain separate membership of the WTO and the Mainland had also become a member of the WTO.

Mr Lam said, "Therefore, the concept of 'One Country, Two Systems' has a dynamism of its own. It can move with the times and accommodate new arrangements."

He pointed out that further economic development was possible under the Basic Law, and there would also be room for constitutional development.

Mr Lam said, "The Chief Executive has stated in his National Day address that it is the clear duty of the current Administration to pursue democratic advancement according to the Basic Law.

"Provided that we conduct the review of constitutional development according to the principle of gradual and orderly progress and in the light of the actual situation of Hong Kong as stipulated in the Basic Law, we should be able to pursue democratic advancement while maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong," he said.

Ends/Friday, December 12, 2003