Vet­eran Ba­sic Law drafter urges re­spect for Con­sti­tu­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HKSAR - By SHADOW LI in Hong Kong stushadow@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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.

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