K Shanmugam is one of Singapore’s most successful lawyers, enjoying a dual and very well paid role as law and foreign affairs minister, but yet appears unable to grasp the very real legal facts driving tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Hong Kong. Rather than painting a picture of “anti-China bias” in the “Western media”, he would do well to review the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which guarantees a democratic future for the Special Administrative Region and serves as the constitutional document for the former British territory. The people of Hong Kong have been promised democracy, but the Chinese Communist Party is denying them that right.
In Harmony with Beijing
K Shanmugam is a man well-known for choosing his words carefully. This time, carefully chosen or not, his words appear to be in perfect harmony with the line Beijing would like the world to believe on Hong Kong, democracy and Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The main point of contention is over claims that China is “denying democracy” to Hong Kong, a position which Shanmugam ascribes to the bogey man of “Western media” who he claims have displayed “lots of anti-China bias”. This is very disingenuous. In fact the Basic Law of Hong Kong describes very clearly that the people of Hong Kong are entitled to full universal suffrage in accordance with democratic principles. Furthermore, the Sino-British Declaration guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy on all matters except foreign and defence affairs – that means including autonomy on chosing their Chief Executive.
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.
Article 45. The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be directly under the authority of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People’s Government.
Section 3(2). Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong
Clearly Beijing is in breach on both points. The mechanism imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing is one where an undemocratic pro-Beijing committee will vet candidates for loyalty to Beijing before selecting a small number of those that pass to stand for election. A committee which only allows pro-Beijing candidates to stand is not “broadly representative” of Hong Kong. And a system where all candidates are screened for loyalty to Beijing is not “in accordance with democratic procedures”. Probably the best analogy for Singapore would be if candidates in the Presidential elections were vetted for loyalty to the PAP first – a system no one would see as democratic. So when people talk of China “denying democracy” in Hong Kong, they are right, and there is no “bias” from “Western media” or otherwise.
Furthermore, in imposing this undemocratic model of governance on Hong Kong, Beijing is also violating the Sino-British joint declaration. No one can see the promised “high degree of autonomy” on the question of local governance when the answer is being imposed by dictators two thousand miles away. And while Shanmugam may be right to say that what has been imposed on Hong Kong is more than they had under the British, this is either a smoke-screen, or a historical curiosity at best. The people of Hong Kong are angry because promises of future democracy have been broken by the Chinese government.
K Shanmugam as a member of the PAP would do well to understand what drives tens of thousands of citizens of an undemocratic nation out onto the streets in protest. And as Foreign Minister he would be well advised not to undermine Singapore’s standing in the world, not to mention in the minds of the residents of Hong Kong, by supporting the untenable position that Beijing is acting in accordance with Basic Law. Finally, as a lawyer, he should refresh on the meaning of Basic Law and the joint declaration and understand that Beijing is in breach of both. He must be smart enough to do so. The only question is why, in spite of that, he prefers to speak in harmony with Beijing.