First Published 26 September 2019
Introduction: Democrats in the Dock by Scott Veitch
On 14 December 2018, the month-long trial of nine co-accused in the Occupy Central (OC) trial in Hong Kong came to a close. They were being prosecuted 4 years after the democratic protests they had inaugurated, charged with various public order, conspiracy and incitement offences at common law. Facing up to 7 years in prison for their leadership role in the mass pro-democracy civil disobedience movement that occupied central Hong Kong for 79 days in 2014, the nine included a Christian pastor, a sociology professor, a legislator and barrister, and the legal academic Benny Tai. In his closing submission to the court, Tai quoted from a judgment of Lord Hoffmann which stated that ‘civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history’, and made the case for its value in progressing justice and enhancing the principle of the rule of law. ‘If we were to be guilty’, he concluded, ‘we will be guilty for daring to share hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong. I am not afraid or ashamed of going to prison. If this is the cup I must take, I will drink with no regret’...
Challenges to the Rule of Law in a Semi-Authoritarian Hong Kong by Benny Tai
Abstract: Hong Kong has been recognized for its well-established rule of law (ROL). After the Umbrella Movement in 2014, the Chinese Communist regime adjusted its strategy towards Hong Kong and closed the road to democracy. With the end of the era of semidemocracy, the governing system in Hong Kong is now going in an authoritarian direction. In this new era of semi-authoritarianism, Hong Kong’s ROL faces the most serious challenges. The meaning of the ROL is now being redefined by the Chinese Communist regime. Hong Kong is fighting a battle on the discourse of the ROL. The legal culture of Hong Kong people may not be strong enough to withstand such an ideological encroachment. The legal professionals in Hong Kong play a critical role in defending more advanced understandings of the ROL which is not just about maintaining social order and compliance with law but concerns constraints on arbitrary powers and protection of the civil and political rights of citizens. There are worries as well as hopes. One thing is sure, the battle will be long and tough.
One Country, Two Systems: A Critical Analysis of Benny Tai’s Account by Fu Hualing
Few constitutional scholars write like Benny Tai does. As a leader in Hong Kong’s democracy promotion and a constitutional scholar, Tai writes to reflect his democratic practices and, more importantly, to offer a road map for Hong Kong’s constitutional odyssey. As one of the chief architects of the powerful Occupy Central Movement (OCM) that shocked the world and a coordinator for strategic voting among pandemocratic groups, Tai writes as a legal practitioner and, for many in his community, a spiritual leader of sorts, in a passionate pursuit and a desperate search for solution. His work demonstrates that Hong Kong society has acquired sophisticated democratic thinking, but it also shows its weaknesses in its conceptualization of Hong Kong’s democratic journey in these unchartered waters. Tai should be taken seriously and his thinking, because of its importance, should be subject to rigorous scrutiny. I will take issue with Tai’s essay on its normative framing of authoritarianism, its positive analysis of the contention between Hong Kong and the Central Authority in Beijing and the future strategies it plans...
Response to Benny Tai by Richard Cullen
I am pleased to respond to Benny Tai’s engaging contribution to the fundamental discussion about the future of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) within the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Emma Woodhouse, one of Jane Austen’s most remarkable characters, concludes a particular analysis of life around her with the observation that what she has just said ‘is the exact truth’. Regardless of how firmly grounded Miss Woodhouse’s claim may be, in this discussion there are, I believe, no exact truths. Here we are absorbed, instead, in a debate based on sincere, differing, extensive reflections.
It is clear that the PRC is poorly ranked internationally (and within the West, especially) for its failure to apply (Western-hewed) Rule of Law (ROL) governance principles – and for the continuing grim examples within the PRC of abuse of State power.1 However, this perspective, by itself, provides a measurably incomplete picture of the broad political-economic operation of the PRC... Click here to read the full text.