Bowing to Beijing
"Wall Street Journal" - 25 may 2001
Kong authorities appear to be on the verge of following Beijing's lead
and banning the FalunGong spiritual movement. Such a move would be the
gravest blow yet to the principle of "one country, two systems"
and would effectively downgrade the territory to the status of just
another mainland city, making it difficult for foreign governments to
justify treating it as an entity distinct from the rest of China.
Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa seems to be looking for a way to ban the
group while still preserving the appearance that all is well with Hong
Kong's rule of law. The head of the civil service Donald Tsang announced
last week that the government is considering an anti-cult criminal law
similar to those drafted in some Western countries; the main model is
reportedly a law now before the French legislature.
In order to justify such a move, the government is gearing up a campaign
to portray the Falun Gong as a threat to Hong Kong's people. This week,
Secretary of Security Regina Ip explained that the government is considering
legislation because FalunGong is a "spillover" from the mainland,
where it has been declared an "evil cult." Mr. Tung has laid
with that label, and a few days ago added that the self-immolations
of five people, said to be FalunGong members, on Tiananmen Square in
January reminded him of the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978. He called
the group "a mix of cult and politics" and said he had to
watch its members because "I don't want them to do irreparable
harm to Hong Kong."
Adopting a law like the one under consideration in France would represent
an attack on Hong Kong's freedoms. The law is vague enough about what
constitutes a cult to allow serious abuses of power by officials, and
it is ill-advised even in France. But at least there it can be counterbalanced
by the forces of democracy, since French citizens can use the ballot
box to remove from power a government that enforces the law too harshly.
No such possibility exists in undemocratic Hong Kong.
Moreover, the law would immediately pose a problem for the Hong Kong
judiciary, which would be called on to judge whether it violated the
freedoms guaranteed in the Basic Law, the territory's post-handover
constitution. The local courts deservedly enjoy a reputation as the
finest in Asia, but since the 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty the
highest body, the Court of Final Appeal, has had its wings clipped on
constitutional matters by the National People's Congress in Beijing.
Just to be absolutely clear, the FalunGong poses no threat to Hong Kong.
Its local members number a few hundred, and it has never shown any propensity
for violence. Indeed, FalunGong's teachings prohibit violence, and even
in mainland China, where authorities have persecuted the group ruthlessly,
the practitioners have refused to lash out.
Other local religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have come
to Falun Gong's defense, recognizing that any government action against
the group would erode religious freedom for all.
There can be no mistake, an anti-cult law would be a crossing of the
Rubicon, showing that Hong Kong is willing to throw out the principle
of "one country, two systems" in order to please Beijing.
lt would draw down condemnation on the Tung administration from every
government and organization that monitors Hong Kong's autonomy and human
rights, hurting the city's reputation.
And it would even do economic damage, by throwing into doubt Hong Kona's
commitments to honor a whole range of her promises that underpin its
status as a reliable base for doing business. The message is clear:
FalunGong members should be left to practice their religion in peace