THE BLOG
10/06/2014 01:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hong Kong's Last British Governor Has Key Fact Wrong About Protests

Franco Origlia via Getty Images

Editorial Board, Guancha.cn
(Jin Zhongwei, Zhang Weiwei, Han Zhu, Yu Liang, Eric Li)

guancha

This is an opinion of the editorial board of the Guancha Syndicate. The Chinese version is published in www.guancha.cn.

SHANGHAI - Seeing that the city he was forced to give up 17 years ago is embroiled in the "Umbrella Revolution," Chris Patten struck again.

In an article in The WorldPost, the last British colonial governor of Hong Kong defines the ongoing crisis as a "dispute about where Hong Kong's promised path to democracy should take it, and when." "No one told Hong Kongers when they were assured of universal suffrage that it would not mean being able to choose for whom they would vote. No one said that Iran was the democratic model that China's Communist bureaucracy had in mind, with the Chinese government authorized to exercise an effective veto over candidates," the current chancellor of the University of Oxford proclaimed.

Trying to prove this accusation of Hong Kong democracy betrayed by China, Lord Patten offered the following piece of evidence:

"In fact, that is not what China had in mind. As early as 1993, China's chief negotiator on Hong Kong, Lu Ping, told the newspaper People's Daily, 'The [method of universal suffrage] should be reported to [China's Parliament] for the record, whereas the central government's agreement is not necessary. How Hong Kong develops its democracy in the future is completely within the sphere of the autonomy of Hong Kong. The central government will not interfere.' The following year, China's foreign ministry confirmed this."

Bingo! China made a promise and is now not honoring it. Guilty beyond doubt. Well, a tiny problem is that Lord Patten was not totally honest. No, the piece of evidence wasn't fabricated - Lu Ping did say what he said. However, what Mr. Lu was discussing was something entirely different from what the current dispute is about. Mr. Lu was in fact referring to the elections of the Legislative Council and not that of the Chief Executive.

Since the sacred cow of the rule of law is among the core values of Hong Kong both the opposition and Lord Patten claim to be defending, it's worth looking at what the laws actually say.

THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL

On the formation of the Legislative Council, Annex II, 3 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, reads:

With regard to the method for forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and its procedures for voting on bills and motions after 2007, if there is a need to amend the provisions of this Annex, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for the record.

In other words, there are four steps to follow if Hong Kong decides to change the election method of the legislature: 1) two thirds of the legislators have to pass a bill first; 2) the chief executive has to agree with the package; 3) the new method will then be reported to China; and 4) China will receive it for the record. And yes, China will not interfere in this process, as said by Mr. Lu quoted by Lord Patten.

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE IS ANOTHER MATTER

The election of the chief executive - the crux of the ongoing struggle in Hong Kong, however, is an entirely different matter.

On the selection of the chief executive, Annex I, 7 of the Basic Law states:

If there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executive for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval.

Again, there are four steps to follow if Hong Kong wants to change the election method of the chief executive: 1) two thirds of the legislators have to pass a bill first; 2) the chief executive has to agree with the package; 3) the new method will then be reported to China; and 4) China will have to decide whether to approve it or not.

In other words, China has a legitimate role to play in, and the final word on, deciding how the chief executive will be elected. This is a legal requirement stipulated in the Basic Law and not a dishonorable move by China as suggested by Lord Patten.

By quoting Mr. Lu and mixing the two entirely separated elections together, Lord Patten is misleading at least and dishonest at worst.

HONG KONG MORE LIKE WESTMINSTER THAN IRAN

While Lord Patten has the nerve of comparing Hong Kong to Iran in terms of vetting candidates, it's interesting to note that the oldest democracy in the world doesn't conform to the kind of universal suffrage Lord Patten and his friends in Hong Kong are pushing for. The prime minister of Britain is neither elected by "one person, one vote" from all the voters, nor nominated by "civic nomination," but chosen by his or her own party.

If Lord Patten truly believes that should be the way to go in Hong Kong, perhaps he should start advocating at home first.