Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, in the Legislative Council today (June 23):
In April this year, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress decided against the election of the Chief Executive ("CE") and Members of the Legislative Council ("LegCo") in 2007 and 2008 by universal suffrage. In this regard, an organisation plans to hold a procession on July 1 this year to continue to strive for the election of the CE and LegCo Members by universal suffrage. In May, several hosts of radio programmes took themselves off the air one after another and many people are of the view that Hong Kong is currently under a trough of political low pressure. According to the results of an opinion poll conducted in April, indicators of people's trust in the Central Government and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ("SAR"), as well as some freedom indicators have shown a downward trend. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:
(a) whether they have assessed the reasons for the downward trend in the indicators of people's trust in the Central Government and the SAR Government; if so, of the assessment results, as well as the remedial measures in place; and
(b) whether they will convey to the Central Government the aspirations of some people for the election of the CE and LegCo Members by universal suffrage and for freedom?
Regarding the first part of the question, the Government has been monitoring public opinion through a wide range of channels as well as different methods and opportunities. These include opinion polls, the mechanism of liaising with established contacts and collating public views, and monitoring the views reflected by the media. The Government appreciates that since the "July 1" demonstration last year, people still have grievances and dissatisfaction in four main areas.
First, although the overall economic environment has improved and many economic indicators are on an upward trend, some people have not benefited from the economic recovery.
Second, even though the Government has strived to improve governance since July 1 last year, there is still a body of opinion that considers the progress made is not significant enough.
Third, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) made an interpretation and decision in April on the methods for selecting the Chief Executive (CE) and for forming the Legislative Council (LegCo). There are some who have not been able to accept the interpretation and decision, and feel disappointed that universal suffrage will not be introduced in 2007/08.
Fourth, following the departure of several radio phone-in programme hosts in May, some people are concerned that freedom of speech in Hong Kong may be affected.
The SAR Government will be very prepared to accept criticisms put forth by the public, review our adequacies and redouble our efforts on dealing with the economy, livelihood issues and governance. We will also strengthen communication with different sectors of the community and make our best endeavours to create a harmonious environment and enhance the cohesiveness of the community.
Over the course of the past year, the SAR Government has adopted a number of measures to revitalise the economy. These include implementing the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement signed with the Mainland, putting in place the Pan-Pearl River Delta cooperation framework among Hong Kong, Macao and nine Mainland provinces to increase economic activities, and further promoting the scheme whereby Mainland people travel to Hong Kong on an individual basis and developing renminbi business. Following the economic growth of 6.8% recorded during the first quarter of this year, we forecast that in the second quarter growth will probably be higher than 6.8% or close to or may reach double digits. The SAR Government will apply itself fully to developing Hong Kong's economy, improving the livelihood of the public, and increasing job opportunities.
Although the economic situation has improved, we are aware that some people remain unemployed, and some wage earners are still uneasy about the unemployment rate. The Government fully understands and appreciates their situation. We hope that the public will understand that it will take some time for the economic recovery to lead to further improvement in the employment situation.
As for constitutional development, the Basic Law has stipulated that universal suffrage is the ultimate aim. Although we are not in a position to implement universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, we still have room to improve the methods for selecting the CE and for forming LegCo. The Constitutional Development Task Force will continue to give explanations to the public through various channels to address their concerns. Our community has now entered into the phase of substantive discussion on constitutional development. The Task Force will continue to encourage different sectors of the community to put forth their views. We hope that by enhancing the understanding of various parties who hold different views through rational and constructive discussion, we will establish consensus on the methods for selecting the CE in 2007 and for forming LegCo in 2008. Following the two constitutional development seminars held earlier on, we will organise a series of cross-sectoral focus group discussions in coming weeks. We will work harder in this regard.
As for freedom of speech, at the policy level, the CE and the Principal Officials have made it clear in the past few weeks that freedom of speech is an inalienable part of the lifestyle and core values of Hong Kong. This is also a right protected under the Basic Law. The SAR Government will strive to defend and safeguard the right of Hong Kong people to express themselves freely. At the operational level, the Police is conducting thorough investigations to establish whether any criminal element is involved in the cases of some radio programme hosts going off air, graffiti and damage to a legislative councillor's office. The Police will pursue these cases proactively.
Regarding the second part of the question, in March and April this year, when the Task Force submitted the first and second reports to the NPCSC, we had also handed over to the NPCSC for consideration the views collected from various sectors of the community in the previous few months. These include views in support of, and those opposed to, the early introduction of universal suffrage. As a matter of fact, in the decision announced on April 26, the NPCSC stated clearly that it was fully aware of the concerns expressed recently by the Hong Kong community about the methods for selecting the CE and for forming LegCo after 2007. These include the views of certain organisations and individuals who wished to see the selection of the CE and the election of all LegCo Members by universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
As for freedom of speech, the CE has earlier made enquiries of the Central Authorities. They have stated clearly that it is the staunch and fundamental policy of the Central Government to safeguard "One Country, Two Systems", Hong Kong people running Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy. The Central Government will not do anything to undermine "One Country, Two Systems" and the interests of Hong Kong. The Central Government also supports the SAR Government in taking action to safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the press in accordance with the law.
Ends/Wednesday, June 23, 2004