BEIJING — It was, the influential South China Morning Post proclaimed Wednesday, a “reminder of who’s the real boss.”
China’s government released a key policy document Tuesday spelling out its interpretation of the “one country, two systems” model that was negotiated as part of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule in 1997.
That system, enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, had granted the territory a high degree of autonomy within China and allowed a fiercely capitalist city and global financial center to flourish — with significant civil liberties and a largely free press and judiciary — under China’s one-party Communist rule.
Many in Hong Kong now worry that those liberties are under threat as Beijing asserts what the South China Morning Post called “total control.”
Beijing’s “white paper” reaffirmed its promise to allow universal suffrage in 2017 in the election for Hong Kong’s top political post, the chief executive. But at the same time, it made abundantly clear that the Chinese government would retain the ultimate say and that only “patriots” would be allowed to run for the job.
“Loving the country is the basic political requirement for all of Hong Kong’s administrators,” said the document, interpreted as meaning that nobody seen as inimical to Beijing would be allowed to assume key posts in Hong Kong.
At the same time, Beijing emphasized that it has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, which is just “one of the local administrative regions of the country.” It warned that the territory’s “high degree of autonomy is subject to the central government’s authorization” and that the principle of “two systems” is subordinate to the idea of “one country.”
Beijing said that the one country, two systems model has allowed Hong Kong to prosper, retain capitalism and remain stable, but that some people in the territory have a “confused and lopsided” understanding of what the term means. It also warned “outside forces” against using the city as a way to interfere in China’s domestic affairs — a warning understood to be directed mainly at the United States and Britain, whose governments have stressed that China needs to keep its promise to grant Hong Kong genuine democracy, to Beijing’s intense annoyance.
Although Hong Kong’s government welcomed Beijing’s white paper, pro-democracy politicians burned copies of it Wednesday, and the Federation of Students held up a roll of “toilet paper” made up of pages of the Basic Law.
The Hong Kong Bar Association charged Wednesday that the white paper threatened the “core value of judicial independence.” It complained that the paper lumped judges in with politicians and bureaucrats as “administrators” who must be “patriotic.”
That, the barristers’ group said in a statement, sent out “the wrong message to the people of Hong Kong, the people on the mainland and the wider international community that the Courts here are part of the machinery of Government and sing in unison with it.”
“This most definitely is NOT the case in Hong Kong,” it said.
On Monday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the recent detention of two Hong Kong journalists in mainland China, complaining that media freedom was “under pressure” in Hong Kong amid “physical attacks on journalists and growing self-
The release of the white paper came less than a week after tens of thousands of Hong Kongers assembled for an emotional ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989.
But it also comes at a time when the government of Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be winning back support among ordinary Hong Kongers.
An annual opinion poll carried out by Hong Kong University and released June 5 showed that 6 percent more people held a positive view of the Beijing government than held a negative view. That compares with 9 percent more people holding negative views than positive in 2013, and 17 percent more holding negative views in 2012.
Analysts said this improvement could be a reflection of Xi’s efforts to combat corruption and bring pollution under control.
Pro-democracy activists had threatened to begin a program of civil disobedience, known as Occupy Central, next month to demand greater democracy in Hong Kong. But organizers have failed to achieve their target of signing up 10,000 supporters, with only about a quarter of that number having pledged to join or support the protest by late May.
One of the organizers, Chan Kin-man, said in an e-mail that they did not plan to go ahead with the protest on July 1, preferring to wait until the Hong Kong government comes up with its own promised set of proposals for democratic reform.
“But young people may not wait,” he said.
Xu Jing contributed to this report.