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6/18/03 - HONG KONG’S AUTONOMY - 2003-06-19

On June 4th, an estimated fifty-thousand people rallied in Hong Kong to mark the fourteenth anniversary of the Chinese government’s 1989 massacre of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. But in Beijing itself, no rally was held. Indeed, such rallies have not been allowed on the Chinese mainland since 1989.

It is the good fortune of Hong Kong’s seven-million Chinese that peaceful demonstrations are still allowed in this former British colony. China regained control of Hong Kong in 1997; since then, it has been a special administrative region with a high degree of autonomy, in accordance with China’s “one nation, two systems” policy. This means that while Hong Kong has come under Chinese sovereignty, the fundamental freedoms and civil liberties of its people continue to be protected by Hong Kong's Basic Law. Besides freedom of assembly, these rights include freedom of speech, association, and religion, due process of law, and the right to own property.

Now, these freedoms are in doubt -- threatened by proposed legislation called for in Article Twenty-three of the Basic Law. As currently written, the legislation could restrict freedom of association and expression. The legislation could threaten other rights as well.

Martin Lee, a founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party and a member of the Legislative Council, led a delegation that met with U.S. officials in early June to discuss the proposed legislation. After the meeting, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed the concern of many about Article Twenty-three:

“We have emphasized the need for a full public consultation. We have emphasized the need to look at this legislation in the context of the fundamental rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong.”

President George W. Bush has made clear to China’s leaders his views on “preserving the rights of Hong Kong citizens.” Those rights should be preserved.

The United States remains committed to the preservation of Hong Kong's autonomy. The U.S. calls upon the government to implement articles of the Basic Law intended to provide for the democratization of Hong Kong's government.