10/06/2014 02:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Umbrella Protestors Are Wrong: China is Abiding by Hong Kong's Basic Law

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This is an opinion article of the editorial board of the Guancha Syndicate. Its Chinese version is published in

HONG KONG - As protests are continuing in Hong Kong and the Western media are busy engaging in an orgy of throwing mud onto China, Martin Lee, the 76-year-old poster boy of Hong Kong opposition, has not disappointed his supporters in the West. In an article titled Hong Kong's Great Test in The New York Times, Mr. Lee repeated many inaccurate claims and even lies on the situation in Hong Kong.

Leaving aside whether the "umbrella" protestors are as peaceful and unrowdy as he claims in his article, let's go to the heart of the matter: the nomination rules for the 2017 election of a new Hong Kong Chief Executive

The purported rationale for the current protests in Hong Kong is summarized by Mr. Lee this way:

"The people of Hong Kong have waited for decades for China to honor its promise that we would rule our city with a 'high degree of autonomy.'
This commitment was made in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty registered at the United Nations - and applauded by the world when it was announced. China's determination to ignore its promises and to control the election of Hong Kong's next chief executive has created this dangerous climate."

"Britain signed the Joint Declaration with Beijing and must act now that it is being violated," Mr. Lee pleads.

All is fair and well except that he is beating up a straw man he created. Let's be absolutely clear on one basic point: Despite what Mr. Lee and the protesters have been crying out so loud China has not violated the Joint Declaration at all.

Since the current row focuses on "universal suffrage" - the election of Hong Kong's chief executive - it is crucial to turn to the Joint Declaration and see what has actually been stipulated in the text. According to Article 3 (4), it states:

The chief executive will be appointed by the Central People's Government on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally.

That's all. That's what was promised by China and accepted by Britain 30 years ago in the "international treaty" referred by Mr. Lee. No matter how hard one may try to stretch the definition of this clause, or one's imagination, it's impossible to claim that China has not honored this obligation.

During the 155 years of colonial rule, all the 28 British governors were appointed by London with no involvement from the Chinese population in Hong Kong. The term "universal suffrage" didn't exist in the dictionary of the British colonialists. The notion of "universal suffrage," nowhere to be found in the Joint Declaration either, was first introduced in the Basic Law, promulgated by China in 1990 to be put into effect when Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China on July 1, 1997. According to Article 45, it states:

The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government.

The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution has stipulated very clearly that for universal suffrage as the ultimate aim to be materialized, a number of criteria have to be fulfilled: it has to look into the "actual situation," to follow the "principle of gradual and orderly progress," and to nominate candidates by a "nomination committee."

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, in fact just reconfirmed in late August that Hong Kong could elect its leader by "universal suffrage" - more than five million voters could participate in the "one man, one vote" election as early as 2017.

However, the protesters, supported by Mr. Lee, ignore the above legal requirements and demand "civic nomination" - candidates that can be nominated by anyone or any party, instead of by a nomination committee as stipulated in the Basic Law. Since they refused to play by the rules and couldn't get what they unreasonably demanded, they launched the Occupy movement to disrupt the whole society. This is a blatant disregard of the law.

Mr. Lee, a long-time lawyer, should have known better than anyone else. If he really cares about the rule of law, a pillar of Hong Kong's core values he himself cites, he should immediately call on the protesters to pack and go home.