National People's Congress chairman Wu Bangguo and other mainland law experts are not attempting to set up a new framework for discussion on Hong Kong's political advancement, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said Thursday. Wu, he said, was merely pointing out the rationale behind the Basic Law.
But former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, a former colleague of Tsang, was worried by Wu's comments Wednesday.
Tsang, who was rounding off an official tour of Tianjin, was pressed by journalists to respond to the comments by the NPC chairman at a Basic Law seminar in Beijing, in which the second- ranked Politburo state leader bluntly noted that the territory has only as much power as the central government authorizes.
The remarks sent shock waves through political parties and pundits alike that Beijing may be taking a tougher line in the continuing row over the democratic development of the SAR.
"The issues concerning residual powers and the separation of powers have already been discussed at the Joint Declaration discussions more than 10 years ago. China owns our sovereignty and our autonomy is granted by the central government, as clearly stated in the Basic Law. I don't think these should be matters of discussion nowadays," Tsang said.
He stressed the Judiciary in Hong Kong has always been independent and effective.
"The independence [of the Judiciary] has been apparent in the 10 years since the handover and is to continue in the future, and I believe there is no reason for the public to worry," he said, adding that both the central and Hong Kong governments have always abided by the laws.
The chief executive also reiterated that various sectors of Hong Kong must be willing to compromise and accommodate to reach the final goal of achieving universal suffrage.
After spending the day visiting the northeastern city, including stops at Tianjin Port where he was accompanied by Tianjin mayor Dai Xianglong, Tsang will continue his study tour in the Hunan city of Changsha today before returning to Hong Kong.
However, Chan said she was personally worried about the stern comments made by Wu, who emphasized that, with an executive-led government, Hong Kong should not blindly follow US or British models. "The separation of three powers is greatly effective in checking and monitoring each other, and is also the guiding principle behind the idea of `one country, two systems' and our high degree of autonomy," Chan said after attending an inauguration ceremony for the Professional Commons, a 50-strong pan-democratic group chaired by Civic Party vice chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak, which is concerned with issues such as achieving full democracy in 2012.
"I think both the central and the SAR governments should clarify soon whether the Judiciary is independent from government interference," Chan said.
She feared overseas investment sentiment and Hong Kong's role as an international financial center would otherwise be affected, once people's confidence in the implementation of "one country, two systems" was shaken.
She expressed hope the green paper on political reform, to be issued by Tsang later this month, would reflect the mainstream views of local people, while giving a clear roadmap and timetable for universal suffrage.
Chan also maintained her belief that Hong Kong people were not trying to challenge the fact that the territory's high degree of autonomy is granted by Beijing.
She went on to pledge her participation in the annual July 1 march.
"While marching would be part of the handover celebrations, I also want to take the opportunity to express the aspirations for full democracy with the masses," she said.
Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah hinted a higher turnout in the march this year is probable due to Wu's comments. "The 10th anniversary of the handover is an appropriate time for the masses to reflect their views [on universal suffrage] ... on the NPC chairman talking, at such a sensitive time, about basic human rights, autonomy and political reform, topics which are very sensitive here. I think people can consider for themselves the sort of impact the comments would have on the turnout," he said.
But Tam Yiu-chung, vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, did not think that what chairman Wu said was provocative. "[Wu] was just reiterating the key points and spirit of the Basic Law. For example, for him to say Hong Kong has as much power as Beijing allows it, that's a fact."
Tam stressed Wu's comments should not be linked with the number of marchers July 1, saying the two were separate issues.
Tsang, meanwhile, again declined to spell out the lineup of his new Cabinet, stressing it will be appointed by the central government after he has submitted his nominations.
The Standard revealed exclusively last week that Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen will become chief secretary for administration come July 1, while Chief Executive's Office director John Tsang Chun-wah will fill Tang's seat.