Promises, Promises ...

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ALTHOUGH Britain and China have promised Hong Kong ``a high degree of autonomy'' in 1997, the strands of power in a draft of the territory's constitution clearly lead to Beijing. For example, in a 1984 joint declaration the two countries said Hong Kong in 1997 would enjoy ``independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication.''

However, Hong Kong's draft constitution, or Basic Law, released in February says ``the power of interpretation ... shall be vested in the standing committee'' of China's nominal parliament, rather than in Hong Kong courts.

Also, Hong Kong was promised that its ``executive authorities shall ... be accountable to the legislature.'' But the draft grants the chief executive, who will be appointed by Beijing at least until the year 2012, power to dissolve the legislature and veto bills.

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Moreover, the Basic Law grants Beijing veto power over laws passed by the legislature that are ``not in conformity ... With the relationship between'' Beijing and Hong Kong. China could use this sweeping statement to limit Hong Kong's legislative autonomy, say advocates for democracy in Hong Kong.

More fundamentally, Beijing has declined to clarify the relationship of the Basic Law to China's Constitution. It is unclear whether Hong Kong after 1997 will have to recognize the primacy of the Communist Party as required in China's Constitution, says Martin Lee, an attorney and legislative council member.

The issues reflect the opposite views in the two countries toward the role of law. Under British tradition, the state should not defy fundamental laws. In China, the state has traditionally used law as a tool: Chinese derive their rights from the state, the state does not derive its rights from the people. -30-{et

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