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China, Carrie Lam, says Hong Kong has been controlled by Beijing since 1997

Carrie Lam, then-Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong. (Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons)
September 14, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday repeated her stance that the city’s government is “executive-led” and accountable to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, amid an outcry over her earlier statement saying there is no separation of powers.

“The truth of the matter is that Hong Kong’s political system is executive-led, with the chief executive at the core, and accountable to the Central People’s Government,” Lam told journalists.

She added that judicial independence was still “of paramount importance.”

Her comments were taken further by Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO), which said that any talk of the principle of the separation of powers, which is typical of liberal democracies, was an attempt to “deliberately confuse the public.”

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“They are in fact conspiring to expand the legislative and judicial powers, weaken the chief executive and the [Hong Kong] government’s governing authority, and prevent central authorities from exercising overall jurisdiction [over Hong Kong],” the office said in a statement.

“They seek to challenge the … constitutional order, and turn Hong Kong into an independent political entity separate from the central government,” it said.

Lam, whose administration has already deleted references to the separation of powers from school textbooks, called for the education of the next generation of schoolchildren in this “truth.”

Checks and balances

According to the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA), a government that operates under the separation of powers doctrine separates the functions of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, enabling them to operate large independently, and create checks and balances between them.

“This arrangement serves to avoid excessive concentration of power, guards against abuse, and strengthens the Rule of Law,” the HKBA said in a statement on its website.

It said the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, provides for a constitutional order “where there are effective checks and balances on the exercise of executive power” and that support for the separation of powers was “unambiguous” in the Basic Law.

The imposition of the National Security Law for Hong Kong on July 1 launched a crackdown on peaceful dissent and criticism of the government in schools and colleges, in the media, and on the streets.

The law bans secessionist, subversive, and terrorist words and deeds, as well as collusion with foreign forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, charges which carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.

It covers actions or words that take place anywhere in the world, including mainland China, and has already been used to target the media with the arrest of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai and a national security police raid on his Apple Daily newspaper on Aug. 10.

Charges of “collusion with foreign powers” appeared in the law after repeated claims from Beijing that last year’s anti-government and pro-democracy protest movement was instigated by “hostile overseas forces.”

Foreign journalists in Hong Kong have already been forced to leave the city after the immigration authorities denied their visa renewal application, while the authorities have warned that cases deemed “serious” could be directly handled by China’s feared state security police, who have set up headquarters in a Causeway Bay hotel, or be sent for trial in a mainland Chinese court.

Prepared for arrest

Former protest leader Joshua Wong said he is making mental preparation to be arrested and sent to China under the new law, reporting that he has been followed daily by national security operatives since the law took effect on July 1.

“To many dissidents in HK, one of the immediate effects of the new national security law is being forced to accept hostile strangers walking into our lives,” Wong wrote via Twitter and in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday.

“I [have] faced harassment from what appear to be state-supported personnel,” he wrote. “Most often, they have waited outside my meeting places and taken photographs, possibly to report my whereabouts to national security agency. Or they are simply sending a message: that they are watching me.”

“I have imagined what would happen if I were detained and sent to China. The physical mistreatment and deprivation of liberty and human dignity seem inevitable,” he wrote. “If I suffered this misfortune, I hope the world [would] stand with HK.”

He said last year’s mass protest movement had been an attempt to “prevent our home from turning into another Xinjiang,” in a reference to the mass incarceration of ethnic minority Uyghurs and other Muslims in detention camps in that region.

“To succumb to authoritarianism docilely is not an option. We shall not surrender,” Wong wrote.

Twelve Hong Kong residents detained by the China Coast Guard after trying to flee an ongoing crackdown on dissent by boat are being denied access to lawyers, according to lawyer Lu Siwei, who made a further unsuccessful attempt to visit his client on Wednesday.