CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Calls for reform hit wall of security around visiting Beijing official

Hong Kong (UCAN): Even as Zhang Dejiang, chairperson of the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress, arrived on May 17 for a three-day visit to Hong Kong, advocates called on the government in Beijing to keep its fingers out of local affairs and to restart the political reform process.

Zhang, China’s third-highest ranking leader and the top official responsible for Hong Kong and Macau affairs said he came to “see, listen and speak,” according to a May 18 report in the South China Morning Post.

He said he would listen to “all sectors of society” on “what recommendations and requirements they have” regarding the implementation of the “one country, two systems,” the report said.

Some 6,000 police were deployed to provide a wall of security around Zhang while barriers were erected to cordon off zones in Central and Wanchai, especially around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where he was scheduled to speak at an economic conference on May 18. 

“If Zhang needs to be so heavily guarded and chooses to only hear what he wants to hear, he should better stay at Zhongnanhai,” the central government headquarters in Beijing, Jackie Hung Ling-yu of the Justice and Peace Commission said.

The commission, together with 50 other groups that make up the Civil Human Rights Front, staged a peaceful protest to get three main messages across: stop interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, restart political reform and honour the promise of a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong.

The commission also issued an open letter on May 17 to Zhang expressing concern about religious persecution of on the mainland, which it says violates freedom of religious belief as guaranteed by China’s constitution.

The letter also criticised perceived interference in local affairs in the face the One country, two systems principle which assures that Hong Kong can maintain its own political system, legal, economic and financial affairs, including external relations with other countries.

Relations between Hong Kong people and Beijing have soured sharply in recent years because of a lack of political reform.

In June 2014, China’s Information Office of the State Council released a white paper on the One country, two systems which stated that Beijing had “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory. 

Two months later, the National People’s Congress laid down a framework for political reform that effectively pre-screens candidates for the chief executive post and thus closed the door to election by truly popular mandate.

The stagnation eventually led to the 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014, but also gave rise to so-called, localist, groups who oppose the perceived encroachment on the city’s autonomy, with some of the more radical ones taking a separatist stance.

Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, the former bishop of Hong Kong asked, “Our people have rejected the National People’s Congress’ framework. Doesn’t Zhang need to be held accountable for it?” 

He noted that government officials in other countries would have stepped down under similar circumstances.

“Zhang caused the local government lose respect among the people,” the cardinal said.

“The government should restart political reform now but we see nothing,” he added.

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