In the face of massive public opposition, the Hong Kong government has delayed action on so-called “anti-subversion” legislation. Hong Kong Chief Executive C.H. Tung [Tung Chee-hwa] ordered the delay a few days after a demonstration by an estimated half-million people. The demonstration came on July 1st, the sixth anniversary of Britain’s return of Hong Kong to China. Demonstrators voiced their concerns that the legislation, if adopted as drafted, would have threatened the fundamental rights of free speech, free assembly, free association, and freedom of religion enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. welcomes “the Hong Kong government’s July 7th decision to respond to the calls of the people and delay action and amend” the legislation. Mr. Boucher urged “the government of Hong Kong to conduct an open and transparent process of consultation on this issue”:
“Chief Executive C.H. Tung’s announcement indicates the Hong Kong government will take steps to address the deep concerns of the people of Hong Kong and of the international community. These include deleting the provision proscribing organizations with mainland [China] counterparts that are banned on national security grounds and adding a public interest defense provision.”
Under Hong Kong’s constitution, or Basic Law, the city is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy. The Basic Law guarantees freedom of speech, assembly, association, and religion, due process of law, and the right to own property. The Basic Law also calls for legislation to protect against subversion. But this can be done without compromising fundamental rights. The controversy surrounding the proposed legislation, said Mr. Boucher, “underscores the great importance of Hong Kong’s move towards democracy”:
“We urge the government to begin discussion of this essential component of Hong Kong success in accordance with the Basic Law’s mandate. Hong Kong should make tangible progress towards the Basic Law’s goal of universal suffrage, a democratically elected government answerable to the will of the people.”
That, said U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, is “the best way to ensure the protection of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.”