In an editorial of May 12 titled "Self-Inflicted Wound," The Post criticized the Hong Kong government's decision to deal with an immigration issue by seeking an interpretation of its constitution, the Basic Law.

The editorial described the immigration issue as an "inconvenience." Surely, that is an understatement. If this issue is not addressed Hong Kong could have as many as 1.67 million new residents at a capital cost of 91 billion U.S. dollars over the next 10 years. That is the equivalent of about 67 million legal requests for residency in the United States between now and 2009.

The accepted -- and probably expected -- course of action would be to change the domestic law at issue. However, what makes Hong Kong unique from other common law jurisdictions is the Basic Law. This is not only Hong Kong's constitution, it is also a Chinese national law.

This constitutional document -- like the American Constitution and those of other countries -- includes a clear legal mechanism by which it can be interpreted or amended. But because it is a Chinese national law, it cannot be amended in Hong Kong, although Hong Kong can request such a course.

In Hong Kong's case, the power to amend the Basic Law lies with the National People's Congress. The power of final interpretation lies with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal has itself expressly acknowledged these powers.

Amendment would be appropriate if the objective was to change the Basic Law from what was originally intended. However Hong Kong has chosen to ask for an interpretation of the Basic Law because we believe the legislative intent of the relevant provisions is clear and that an interpretation is therefore the appropriate way to resolve the problem.

We have made it clear that an interpretation will not affect the status of any of the applicants whose cases were heard by the Court of Final Appeal, nor the status of the thousand or so people from whom the applicants were selected as test cases. The power of interpretation relates exclusively to the Basic Law itself and cannot therefore be exercised in relation to common law contractual disputes or to Hong Kong's own statutory provisions.

The route we have chosen is constitutionally rock solid and ironclad in law, and it is backed by overwhelming community support.


Hong Kong Commissioner, U.S.A.