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262 Public Administration in Southeast Asia

Fourth, according to Article 23, the Hong Kong SAR “shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.” The wording of this controversial article in the Basic Law was tightened in the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown. The Hong Kong SAR government did not proceed with the consultation on the draft legislation until the fall of 2002, more than 5 years after unification. But the huge controversies concerning the legislation of Article 23 prompted massive protests in Hong Kong on July 1, 2003. The subsequent withdrawal of the legislation has not resolved this matter entirely. Enacting Article 23 is still an obligation of the Hong Kong SAR according to the Basic Law, but this is clearly a very politically charged agenda. In short, this overview of the OCTS framework suggests that while Hong Kong has indeed been granted a great deal of autonomy, there are also key levers for the central government to maintain control.

13.4Changing Relations between the Central Authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Understanding the changing political context of post-1997 Hong Kong is critical before one can appreciate the changing relations between the central government and the SAR. The Hong Kong SAR government has encountered many challenges and suffered from serious policy failures in the past decade. The onset of the Asian financial crisis, the avian flu outbreak, and the airport opening fiasco are but some of the many problems that confronted Hong Kong in 1997–1998. The economic downturn further compounded the governance challenge for the first Hong Kong SAR administration under C. H. Tung, who was favored by Beijing but lacked strong political leadership. Since the top echelon of decision makers of the Hong Kong SAR government was staffed by civil servants who would not be easily removed, there had been popular demands for greater accountability after a series of public sector failures broke out after 1997, such as the short piling incident in building public housing. The Principal Officials Accountability System (POAS) was introduced by Tung at the beginning of his second term in 2002 in order to transfer policy-making power from the senior bureaucrats to a dozen political appointees who will be held accountable to the chief executive. This enabled the chief executive to select his own team of top officials, rather than just relying on senior civil servants as in the colonial era. However, the government was soon engulfed in the highly controversial national security legislation in 2003. Coupled with the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic and the ensuing economic downturn, Hong Kong was plunged into a political crisis that triggered more than half a million protesting on July 1, 2003. The political storm unleashed by the anti-Article 23 legislation has profoundly changed the political landscape and further weakened the popularity of C. H. Tung. The growing demand for a faster pace of democratization, the emergence of civil society activism against government policies, and the looming public discontent have compelled Beijing to provide economic policy support to the Hong Kong SAR, shore up the authority of the Tung government, and dampen the demands for democratization by means of constitutional interpretations. More importantly, it was widely believed that Beijing was behind Tung’s surprise resignation in March 2005 and the appointment of Donald Tsang, a senior bureaucrat, revealed the depth of the governance crisis experienced by Hong Kong under OCTS.

© 2011 by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC

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