Veteran Basic Law drafter urges respect for Constitution
The famous 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell holds that you need 10,000 hours of practice to reach the top tier in any field. That might be true in Maria Tam Wai-chu’s case; the barrister has been closely linked to the promulgation and implementation of Hong Kong Basic Law for about 32 years.
Tam, now 71, is a member of the HKSAR Basic Law Committee of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. She witnessed and deeply engaged herself in the preparations prior to 1997.
She was one of the many legal experts involved in drafting and discussing the SinoBritish Joint Declaration in 1982, as well as the Basic Law since 1985.
“Since China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, the city has been in the lead in many aspects, including its economy and judicial independence,” Tam told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
Tam wasn’ t exaggerating. Hong Kong, the city she devoted her whole life to, has been ranked as the freest economy for 23 consecutive years by the Heritage Foundation in an assessment of more than 180 economies. Apart from that laurel, Hong Kong’s judicial independence was ranked in fourth place in the World Economic Forum competitiveness report for 2015-16.
But, as a guardian of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, Tam also has worries and concerns.
“It is a pity that the opposition camp in Hong Kong does not have enough respect for the Basic Law, the city’s constitutional document,” said Tam. She added that the situation would be unthinkable for ruling politicians or opposition parties in foreign countries.
Tam was one of the lucky legal professionals to be involved in drafting the Basic Law when she was 39. Her life has basically been closely linked with the Basic Law ever since.
As a veteran Hong Kong lawyer who is behind the drafting and the implementation of the Basic Law, Tam felt she is obliged to promote the Basic Law and “one country, two systems” to Hong Kong people.
She has, on many public occasions, explained the difficult times when disputes and discussions arose and how consensus was reached in the end despite all obstacles.
She also kept a lot of details from those unforgettable times, including the hand-written notebooks she had in discussions about the Basic Law.
“The Chief Executive and the legislators are elected in accordance with the political system, which has made party politics unavoidable,” Tam lamented.
Hong Kong, by its established rule, is designated to implement a system of executive-led government, with checks and balances between the administration and the legislature. The CE by law is free of any political affiliation.
With the government’s neutral stance in politics, there is basically no support of the government in the legislature, said Tam.
“We have seen a lot of emphasis on the checks and balances between the legislature and the administration. But we see little coordination between them,” said Tam.
T h u s d e s p i t e h av i n g a n advanced economy and an independent judicial system, there were still setbacks in implementing executive-led government, Tam added.
Various political par ties across the political spectrum should join hands to work together for the interest of Hong Kong people in improving people’s quality of life and boosting the economy, said Tam.
“It is not a problem to have different political beliefs, however, one should still honor the Basic Law,” Tam stressed.
She has always been a strong believer in Hong Kong’s future with the nation’s peaceful development. She received her legal education at the University of London. But she decided to come back to the city she was born and raised in.
Her devotion to law has led her to become a member of four councils at different levels in Hong Kong in the 1980s, pushing her political career to an all-time high.
Tam made efforts to study the nation’s Constitution. In 1990, she made a one-year study visit to the Peking University in Beijing to learn from the best law experts on the Chinese mainland. Her mentor, Professor Xiao Weiyun, is a leading expert on the Constitution.
The one-year experience has shaped her way of understanding the Basic Law, which thrilled Tam.
But the recent disputes and internal conflicts have made her concerned. She urged the people of Hong Kong to put aside their differences and appreciate the support that the country has unfailingly given to Hong Kong. Tam was referring to the Belt and Road Initiative and Guangdong-Hong KongMacao Greater Bay Area, both of which are believed to offer rich opportunities for the city.
“Hong Kong and the mainland can strengthen their ties in many aspects, such as in finance, trade, innovation and technology, art and culture,” Tam said.
But above all, Hong Kong needs to partner with the Chinese mainland in innovation and creative industry, in Tam’s view.
It is not a problem to have different political beliefs, however, one should still honor the Basic Law.” Maria Tam Wai-chu,
“Innovation and technology has been Hong Kong’s short plank, but we have a good financing platform that can work with Shenzhen, which has abundant talents and a vibrant technology and innovation base,” she said.
She cautioned that Hong Kong should not rest on its previous laurels and needed to make efforts to join the nation’s plans to pursue further developments.
Chai Hua in Shenzhen contributed to the story.