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Full text: Liu’s speech on HK democracy white paper

Liu Guangyuan, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, hosts a briefing on the white paper “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong, Dec 22, 2021. (PHOTO / FMCOPRC.GOV.HK)

HONG KONG – Liu Guangyuan, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, hosted a briefing on the White Paper “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems” on Wednesday. Below is the full text of his speech.

Distinguished Consuls-general, heads of chambers,

friends from the media,

ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning! Welcome to the briefing.

We invite all of you here today to brief you on an important White Paper: “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”. The paper was issued by China’s State Council Information Office On December 20, and elaborates on the development of democracy in Hong Kong with facts and figures. 

Except the Preamble and Conclusion, the white paper has six chapters: the first chapter is Under British Colonial Rule There Was No Democracy in Hong Kong; the second chapter is The Return of Hong Kong to China Ushered in a New Era for Democracy; the third chapter is The Central Government Is Committed to Developing Democracy in Hong Kong; the fourth chapter is Anti-China Agitators Undermine and Disrupt Democracy in Hong Kong; the fifth chapter is Development of Democracy in Hong Kong Is Back on Track, and the sixth chapter is The Prospects Are Bright for Democracy in Hong Kong. 

Given the time limit, I will not go into details of the White Paper. We’ve prepared the paper in both Chinese and English, and you can download them from the website of the State Council Information Office.

Three days ago, the first Legco election under the new electoral system was held smoothly. 153 candidates ran for the election through strong competition with their focus on ideals, contributions and sense of responsibility, showing candidates’ love for the country and Hong Kong and their ability to political participation. People from all sectors took their part, and voters exercised their civil rights.

Under the improved electoral system, Hong Kong gets rid of the chaos during previous years’ elections, overcomes the vicious competition and social rifts, and presents a new look of rational election culture. It demonstrates the broad representation, political inclusiveness, balanced participation and fair competition of the election. It is a successful model of quality democracy and substantive democracy, and shows that democracy in Hong Kong is advancing with the times. It is of great significance for the Chinese government to publish the white paper at this time.

The audience give a round of applause  during the briefing on the white paper “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong, Dec 22, 2021. (PHOTO / FMCOPRC.GOV.HK)

First, the white paper clarifies misinformation on important issues concerning Hong Kong’s democratic development.

The White Paper has a comprehensive review of the origin and development of democracy in HK, and answers the questions related to the practice of “one country, two systems” and democratic development in Hong Kong, such as “where the democratic system in Hong Kong comes from?” “who established, defends and promotes democracy in Hong Kong?” “who disrupts,upsets and damages democracy in Hong Kong?” “what’s the nature of the constitutional development in Hong Kong?” “why to improve the electoral system in Hong Kong?” and “what kind of democracy should Hong Kong develop?” It distinguishes between right and wrong, clarifies facts, and sets the record straight. The paper points out the direction for the sound and steady development of democracy in Hong Kong.

Second, the white paper counters the interference of anti-China forces both at home and overseas to undermine the development of democracy in Hong Kong. 

Since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the interference and disruption of some domestic and foreign forces to Hong Kong’s democratic development has never stopped. 

In particular, these anti-China forces attacked and smeared the new electoral system, seriously trampled on the democratic rights of Hong Kong people and injured the democratic development of Hong Kong after the Chinese Central Government improved the electoral system in Hong Kong.

It is imperative to uncover and oppose the ulterior motives and acts of these forces disrupting Hong Kong and containing China under the pretext of so-called human rights and freedom, so as to remove obstacles to the development of democracy in Hong Kong.

Third, the white paper enhances the confidence in the future development of democracy in Hong Kong. 

The white paper clearly points out the goal and path of democratic development in Hong Kong under “one country, two systems”, and depicts the bright prospects of democratic development in Hong Kong. 

It demonstrates that the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have a deeper understanding and clearer planning of the democratic development of Hong Kong under “one country, two systems”. It will not only help people to strengthen their confidence in the development of a democratic system with Hong Kong features and fitting Hong Kong realities, but will reinforce our determination to maintain Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability and enduring success of “one country, two systems”.

Here, I would like to give my answers to four questions based on the white paper.

Question no.1, who is the creator and promoter of democracy in Hong Kong?

Under British colonial rule, there was no democracy in Hong Kong. Britain exercised a typical colonial rule over Hong Kong after it occupied the city. Governors were appointed to rule the city on behalf of Britain. Governors assumed all executive and legislative powers and were free of any checks and balances. The British colonial government maintained a repressive rule in Hong Kong, tightly controlling the press and restricting freedom of speech. The British Hong Kong authorities practiced racial discrimination against local Chinese, and imposed harsh laws and severe punishments on them. The authorities practiced separate rule over Chinese and Westerners, and brutally suppressed patriots’ movements. In judicial proceedings, the Chinese suffered discrimination. Local Chinese were long excluded from governance bodies and were denied participation in Hong Kong’s governance. 

People in Hong Kong made numerous demands for democracy. For example, there were repeated calls to establish a municipal council, provide elected seats in the Legislative Council and restructure the Legislative Council, as well as requests for local autonomy, but the British government rejected all of them. 

In 1976, the British government ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it explicitly excluded a clause about periodic elections from being applied in Hong Kong.

The sudden interest of the British government in “electoral reform” at the end of the colonial rule revealed its ulterior motives. In 1979, the then Hong Kong Governor realized the Chinese government’s strong determination to recover Hong Kong. The British government then suddenly reversed its previous opposition to democratic reform in Hong Kong, and started a major program to bring in and expand electoral process.

In particular, in 1992, the last Governor presented a proposal for electoral reform which violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the principle of aligning Hong Kong’s future political system with the Basic Law. His proposal was imposed in Hong Kong despite strong opposition from China. The intention was to  extend British political influence and undermine China’s sovereignty and full governance after Hong Kong’s return to China, by turning Hong Kong into a de facto independent or semi-independent political entity.

The vicious nature of British colonial rule and the British government’s repeated refusal to develop democracy in Hong Kong cannot be concealed or changed. The colonial rule did not bring any genuine democracy to Hong Kong; instead, it laid hidden snares for the development of democracy in Hong Kong after its return to China. 

The return of Hong Kong to China ushered in a new era for its democracy. The CPC and the Chinese government designed, created, safeguarded and advanced Hong Kong’s system of democracy. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Chinese government decided to resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and announced the policy of One Country, Two Systems, under which Hong Kong would be governed by the people of Hong Kong, exercising a high degree of autonomy. A blueprint for developing democracy in post-1997 Hong Kong was drawn up and a new era for its democracy unfolded. 

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law of the HKSAR together create the constitutional foundation of Hong Kong. They established a democratic system in Hong Kong, embody the principle of Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong with patriots at the core, and grant extensive democratic rights and freedoms to Hong Kong residents. 

The establishment of democratic institutions and the exercise of democracy in Hong Kong would not have been possible if China had not resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong or if the CPC and the government had not stayed committed to the principle of One Country, Two Systems.

Since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland 24 years ago, the central government has fully supported the orderly and law-based development of democracy in Hong Kong under One Country, Two Systems and the Basic Law, and has taken three significant steps. First step is to give approval to amend the election methods for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council in 2004; second step is to set a timetable for universal suffrage in 2007; third step is to draw up a roadmap for electing the Chief Executive by universal suffrage in 2014. 

The three steps demonstrate that the central government has never wavered in its commitment, changed its sincerity or stopped its efforts to support Hong Kong in developing democracy. Any rational observer can clearly see that since Hong Kong’s return to China, its people have gained much greater access to political participation and enjoy more democratic rights than ever before. Democracy in Hong Kong is flourishing in full swing.

Liu Guangyuan, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, hosts a briefing on the White Paper “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong, Dec 22, 2021. (PHOTO / FMCOPRC.GOV.HK)

Question no.2, who is the agitator that undermines the development of democracy in Hong Kong?

For quite some time, anti-China forces have ramped up their efforts to contain China’s growth. Amid growing complexity both in the world and in HK,instigators of disorder have been challenging the authority of the Constitution and the Basic Law, trying to seize power in Hong Kong through a color revolution, in an attempt to derail the development of democracy in the city. This has a serious impact on the social environment for Hong Kong developing its democracy.

The agitators challenge the constitutional order of the HKSAR established by the Constitution and the Basic Law. To damage the central authorities’ overall jurisdiction over Hong Kong, they have gone out of their way to create chaos. They have engaged in provocative public acts such as burning, tearing down, and stamping on the national flag. They have defaced the national emblem, and ripped and burned copies of the Basic Law. As a result of their filibuster, the local legislation on national security required by Article 23 of the Basic Law has been stalled. 

They collude with external anti-China forces, call for referendums to separate Hong Kong from China, and founded various “HK independence” and radical separatist groups,gravely endangering our national security. They clamored for violating laws to achieve the so-called “justice” and carried out a series of illegal activities, such as the Occupy Central movement in 2014, the Mong Kok riot in 2016, and the amendment bill turbulence in 2019,jeopardizing foundations of rule of law.

They spread political lies, incited hatred among local people towards the country and their mainland compatriots, and drove a wedge between Hong Kong and the mainland, poisoning the public sphere. They impeded government administration,  engaged in repeated filibustering,and insulted public office holders. A large number of important bills that could have benefited Hong Kong and its residents failed to pass due to the standstill, dealing a heavy blow to economy and livelihood.

The agitators have twisted the meaning of democracy, raised various proposals that violate the Basic Law, disrupted fair and orderly electoral process, coerced and intimidated voters and patriotic candidates, constantly hindering the gradual and orderly development of democracy in Hong Kong. Without their sabotage or disregard of public opinion, Hong Kong could have realized universal suffrage in the election of its Chief Executive by 2017 and the election of all members of its Legislative Council by 2020.

At the same time, some external forces regard Hong Kong as a “bridgehead” for splitting, subverting, infiltrating into and sabotaging China and attempt to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity. 

From the Occupy Central movement in 2014 to the turbulence in 2019, external forces moved from behind the scenes to public view, exploited the loopholes in Hong Kong in term of safeguarding national security to collude with anti-China forces in Hong Kong. 

They ignored the public demand for stability and development, turned a blind eye to international law and the basic norms governing international relations, openly supported anti-China elements in Hong Kong, emboldened black violence forces, delivered misleading comments about the measures of the Central Government to right the wrongs in Hong Kong, and imposed sanctions on China and Hong Kong.

Witnessing HK transitioning from chaos to stability, external forces are not reconciled to their failure and have gone to great lengths to disrupt HK returning to the right track and interfered with important political agenda of the HKSAR.

Out of ideological prejudice and political motives, they shut their eyes to the positive effects of the national security law, played up the so-called “chilling effect”, and disregarded the support of the Hong Kong people to the new electoral system. They ignored the efforts of the central government to fully and faithfully implement “one country, two systems”, clamored that “democracy in Hong Kong is dead” and slandered the central government’s policies to Hong Kong. 

Caring about the rights and interests of Hong Kong people is just their excuse, their true intention is to protect their hegemony at the expense of HK people’s interests. 

They proclaim to champion “democracy” and “freedom”, but in effect engage in activities of using HK to curb China. 

Their hypocrisy and sinister intention have long been seen through by the international community and Hong Kong society.

Facts have repeatedly shown that progress towards democracy has stalled in HK because of the local agitators and the external groups behind them – the former are the frontline saboteurs and the latter the covert masterminds. Hong Kong youth have become their pawns, and local residents are the victims who suffer the consequences. The anti-China forces in HK and the external forces behind them have never really cared about democracy in Hong Kong. They are the chief culprits that hinder the development of democracy in HK.

For quite long time, certain countries have imposed their own political systems and values on others, carried out “democratic transformation”, staged “color revolutions”, interfered in others’ internal affairs willfully, and even subverted the political power of some other countries. As a result, these countries and regions are in misery, their people have been displaced, and the “democracy pie” has become a “democracy trap”. The 1.4 billion Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots, are all clear-eyed about it. We will never want or accept such a “democracy trap”.

I want to stress again that the Chinese government will ensure that “one country, two systems” remain unchanged and that it is implemented fully and faithfully. The Chinese government will continue to promote the development of democracy in Hong Kong and protect the democratic rights of Hong Kong people. 

Hong Kong is part of China. What kind of democracy paths Hong Kong takes and what kind of electoral system it implements are purely China’s internal affairs and brook no external interference. 

We welcome all countries to carry out friendly exchanges and cooperation with Hong Kong to achieve mutual benefit. 

At the same time, the Chinese nation has firm determination to safeguard its national sovereignty, security, and development interests. Any attempt to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, undermine Hong Kong’s stability, and use Hong Kong to face down China, no matter under what pretexts or through what means, will be confronted with our strong counter-response.

Copies of the white paper “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”(PHOTO / FMCOPRC.GOV.HK)

Question no.3, what does the new electoral system mean for democracy in Hong Kong?

The central government responded swiftly to the situation in Hong Kong and took a series of decisive measures such as adopting the national security law, improving HK’s electoral system, implementing the principle of “patriots administering HK”, and supporting the HKSAR in improving oath-taking rules for public office-holders. The measures helped HK to achieve the major transformation from chaos to stability and brought Hong Kong’s democracy back on track.

Hong Kong’s improved electoral system is based on the principle of One Country while respecting the differences between the Two Systems, and is guided by the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong. It closes the loopholes in the previous electoral system, and is open and inclusive. It ensures both extensive and balanced participation. It reinforces both electoral democracy and consultative democracy. It safeguards state authority and improves governance. It promotes sound governance and upholds and realizes the democratic rights of Hong Kong people. The improved electoral system ensures the sound long-term development of democracy in Hong Kong.

The newly elected members are diverse, balanced, professional and the Legco has taken on a fresh look. It brings a new atmosphere to Hong Kong’s political life. 

Some of the guests today took part in this year’s Legco election. As participants, they have the best say in the strengths of Hong Kong’s new electoral system. 

This election fully proves that Hong Kong’s electoral system improved by the central government is effective.

The Central Government will continue to steer the course for the development of democracy in Hong Kong and support this endeavor, and it will continue to resolutely uphold the fundamental interests of all the people in Hong Kong.

It is expected that this new Legco could be free from the political quagmire of “mutual destruction” and “filibuster”, the advantages of the executive-led system will be further brought into play, and the executive and legislative councils will have sound interactions. Hong Kong will surely open a new chapter of sound governance.

Some forces with ulterior motives accuse that the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” excludes dissidents from the governance structure. That’s simply not true. I would like to stress once again that “administration by patriots” is a global common practice and the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” is an essential requirement of “one country, two systems”. The purpose of “patriots administering Hong Kong” is to prevent the governance of Hong Kong from being seized by the anti-China forces in Hong Kong and external forces behind them, and to ensure the enduring success of “one country, two systems”. It does not exclude people with different political views or propositions.

Hong Kong’s new electoral system gives ample room for different opinions and political groups, and there will be a plurality of voices in the government. But we will not allow any anti-China elements in Hong Kong to enter the governance framework. We hope that all those who love the country and Hong Kong could stand together to form the most extensive united front, and make democracy more diverse under One Country, Two Systems.

Question no.4, what is the future prospect for democratic development in Hong Kong?

“One country, two systems” provides a foundation for the development of democracy in Hong Kong. It is not only the best solution to solve the issues left over by history, but also the best system for Hong Kong to maintain long-term prosperity and stability after its return to the motherland. 

With more than 20 years of experience, the CPC and the Chinese government have gained a deeper and clearer understanding of how to develop democracy in accordance with One Country, Two Systems and in line with the realities in Hong Kong. We will continue to take more solid steps to advance democracy in the right direction with greater confidence.We are firmly committed to the original mission of “one country, two systems” and to building a quality democracy in line with the reality of Hong Kong.

On November 2021, at its Sixth Plenary Session, the 19th CPC Central Committee adopted the Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century. One Country, Two Systems is included as one of the Party’s important achievements and a major contributor to its experience. This is the first time that Hong Kong and Macao affairs, and One Country, Two Systems are listed in such a momentous document as a special part.

Hong Kong must follow the path of democratic development in line with the actual situation in Hong Kong. In this path, it is key to have a full understanding of the relationship between One Country and Two Systems and faithfully implementing this policy. One Country is the prerequisite and basis for the Two Systems, and the Two Systems are subordinate to and derive from One Country. 

We will govern Hong Kong in strict accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law, properly handle the relationship between the central government and the HKSAR and ensure both overall jurisdiction by the central government and a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong. 

In developing democracy with HK features, we will ensure that democracy is guided by the central government and makes steady progress in accordance with law.

The constitutional order must be consolidated to safeguard national security. Safeguarding national security must be a focus in developing democracy in Hong Kong, and all latent threats and risks that could undermine national security must be neutralized.

The executive-led system should be implemented. We will consolidate the Chief Executive’s core position and authority in the region’s governance to ensure governance efficiency.

There should be balanced participation in governance, and Hong Kong should remain open and pluralistic. The rule of law will be upheld to protect personal rights and freedoms.  Democracy should be promoted in many forms. The economy will be boosted for the greater benefit of the people of Hong Kong.

The central government will further integrate Hong Kong into China’s overall development and support Hong Kong in extensive exchanges and cooperation with other countries and areas. We support Hong Kong in defining its development strategy within the national development strategy and in contributing to the national effort to open up and build a modern economy. We support Hong Kong in playing its part in the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, in creating a platform for the Belt and Road Initiative, and in tapping into its strengths to realize coordinated development with other parts of the country.

The Chinese government attached great importance to protecting the interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong. The economic interests of the UK and other countries in Hong Kong will be accommodated. China is ready to share the platform of Hong Kong as an international financial and economic platform, and share the dividends from China’s reform and opening-up.

At last, I would like to share some of my thoughts on democracy with all of you. Democracy is the abiding pursuit of the Chinese people, and the Communist Party of China has made unremitting efforts for it by upholding people’s democracy.

At the same time, the democratic practice of China and the HKSAR has proved that there is no fixed one-size-fits-all model for democracy that is universally applicable.

It runs counter to democratic values to examine different political civilizations from a single perspective or measure the diverse political systems and democratic models in the world with a single yardstick.

Democracy should truly benefit the people, not exists in name only. Democracy should feature harmony without uniformity, not the other way round. The key of democracy lies in that the people are the masters of their own countries, not that politicians make decisions for the people. 

The standard of whether an election is successful is not how high-profile or bustling it is, but if the elected are capable to improve governance.

To measure if a system works, we need to look at both what it has brought in the past and what it is delivering now. Put Hong Kong’s democratic development into perspective. The development of Hong Kong’s democracy reminds us that it is time to wake up from the “Western-style democracy myth”, put aside bias, and take an objective view over the new practice of democracy in Hong Kong.

We believe that with the full support of the Central Government, the institutional advantages of “one country, two systems”, the huge opportunities of national strategies such as the Greater Bay Area and the “Belt and Road Initiative”, and with the improving democracy with Hong Kong features, the development of Hong Kong will have a brighter prospect, the implementation of “one country, two systems” will be more stable, and a better future for Hong Kong is just ahead of us.