The following is the transcript of the English portion of the media session by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, this (Saturday) afternoon:
Mr Tung: Over a month ago, we decided to seek the assistance of the State Council to approach the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to interpret the Basic Law provisions concerning the right of abode according to their true legislative intent, and to help us resolve the difficulties we had encountered in implementing the Basic Law.
Earlier today, the Standing Committee issued its interpretation. A problem which concerns the long-term interests of Hong Kong people, and which has caused widespread public concern, has finally been resolved in a manner which is entirely legal and constitutional.
I wish to emphasise that we treasure the rule of law as one of the most important pillars of Hong Kong's success. It is my mission, and that of the SAR Government, to protect the rule of law and judicial independence. In dealing with the right of abode issue, we have exercised great care to ensure that every step taken is strictly in line with the law and complies with applicable procedures.
Some Hong Kong people who do not fully appreciate the situation may be worried that our rule of law has been affected by this issue. This is understandable. I wish to assure these people, to ask them put their hearts at ease. We will never permit the rule of law be compromised.
In fact mainstream community opinion supports the interpretation by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. They have made a realistic assessment of Hong Kong's overall interests, such as employment opportunities and quality of life, and support our effort to resolve this matter within the established legal framework. Basically, the problem has now been resolved in accordance with this approach.
There are some people in Hong Kong who have completely ignored the legal and constitutional basis on which we have resolved the problem. They have also tried to mislead international opinion. Unfortunately, neither have they made any practical contribution to solving this very difficult problem.
After receiving the interpretation of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the Executive Council met earlier today. We have made the following decisions :
* First, we will introduce a resolution to the legislature to amend Schedule I to the Immigration Ordinance:
(a) to make it clear that children born outside Hong Kong will only be eligible for the right of abode if at least one of their parents has already acquired permanent residence status at the time of their birth; and
(b) to provide for children born out of wedlock to apply for right of abode.
* Secondly, to comply with the principle that judgments previously rendered by the Court of Final Appeal shall not be affected by an interpretation of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, we will allow persons who arrived in Hong Kong between July 1, 1997 and January 29, 1999, and had claimed the right of abode, to have their status as permanent residents verified in accordance with the CFA decision. It is estimated that there are about 3,700 people in this category.
* Thirdly, for those who arrived after January 29, 1999, or I could put it in another way, thirdly, for any other persons, they will only be able to apply for the right of abode if they satisfy the terms of the interpretation given by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
I have stated previously that "One Country, Two Systems" is an unprecedented historical endeavour. It is perfectly understandable that some problems may arise during its implementation. So long as we keep Hong Kong's best interests at heart, and so long as we act in strict compliance with the spirit of the rule of law and the Basic Law itself, we will be able to cope with any difficulties. Through this effort, we have enriched our experience in implementing and enforcing the Basic Law, as well as in safeguarding the rule of law in Hong Kong. We have seen once again that the Central authorities are most concerned about Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. I can say that with great confidence that under "One Country, Two Systems", the integrity of Hong Kong's legal system and the rule of law will be preserved.
Reporter: Could you explain what happens to the decisions - given that these are legal decisions handed down by the Court of Final Appeal, does this ruling declare those null and void? Does that blue-pencil all those clauses in those decisions that allowed the people to stay here? And what about the cases now before the court?
Given that these decisions allowed children whose parents were not residents at the time, the right of abode, and these are legal decisions that were binding, what happens to future court cases that were argued on these decisions that are now before the courts, and what about future court cases that may refer to these decisions?
Secretary for Justice, Ms Elsie Leung: The interpretation by the NPC is not different from any interpretation by the court. Taking, for example, if the court has given an interpretation in January and today, another court has made a different interpretation, now, that is the same situation as what it is, that is, the law should have been interpreted right from the beginning but it's the right of the claimant that would be determined as at the day of consideration of the claim.
Reporter: Mr Tung, you say that you've gained valuable experience in the application of the Basic Law. To what extent is this experience going to also establish a precedent? To what extent do you intend to use this NPC channel for further reinterpretation of the court's decision?
Mr Tung: Well, as I have said earlier on, that this exercise does give us a very valuable experience and what I want to emphasise is that we have taken this course of action because there were really no other alternatives and it was not something we would want to do in the future, if we can help it. And I also want to emphasise, if you look at the 50 years history of the National People's Congress, they don't exercise this lightly either because these are very serious constitutional and legal issues and we will only do it with a great deal of thought and a great deal of care.
And let me emphasise again, for Hong Kong, we all know the importance of the rule of law. This is the pillar of our success in the past, it will be so in the future, and we will guard this very, very carefully.
Reporter: Mr Tung, what do you say to your legislative critics who complain that the effect of today is that the government always wins? The Court of Final Appeal is not final if the government loses; if the government wins, it's final.
Mr Tung: Well, let me tell you this, that the National People's Congress is the highest authority of the land and they are not going to permit Hong Kong - they are not going to permit themselves to be used as an instrument for going to court and winning cases for Hong Kong. I think that sort of thought is a bit naive. In any case, you know that we can't go to the National People's Congress Standing Committee directly. We have to go to the State Council, and the State Council is not going to be a rubber-stamp on whatever we want to do they will follow. I think we have got to be more serious than that.
Reporter: My question is for Mr Tung. As you said that in your view the matter is resolved and a solution has been found. At the same time, there are people already saying that they feel the NPC decision has already created more questions than answers and lawsuits will be filed imminently. So, I would like to know what it is that makes you confident and why you feel you have failed to put their hearts at ease?
Mr Tung: Well, let me say this. Hong Kong is a society of very many different opinions and it is a society where people are able to express very strong views openly and sometimes critically. And that is a strength of Hong Kong and I will continue to welcome all these views and the judicial route is always there. There might be more lawsuits. But from our point of view, we have made a giant step towards solving a very difficult problem and we are very, very pleased that this has happened. Thank you.
End/Saturday, June 26, 1999