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China reinterprets HK Constitution

China on Saturday reinterpreted Hong Kong's Constitution, overturning a local court ruling and cutting an influx of mainland immigrants i...

China on Saturday reinterpreted Hong Kong’s Constitution, overturning a local court ruling and cutting an influx of mainland immigrants in a move critics said threatened to erode the territory’s judicial independence. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) decided that mainlanders born before one of their parents became a permanent resident of Hong Kong did not have Right of Abode. The decision reduces the number of mainlanders eligible to live here from 1.6 million as claimed by the government to 200,000, local reports said.Beijing also mandated that eligible mainlanders must apply through a lengthy process which requires them to first obtain permits and then wait their turn in a quota system which allows only 150 people through each day.

The Court of Final Appeal (CFA) ruling in January gave eligible mainlanders the right to live in Hong Kong with immediate effect and said that they did not need to first obtain the permits.

But in a major victory for mainlanders already in HongKong and claiming Right of Abode, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said they would be allowed to stay.

“We will allow persons who arrived in Hong Kong between July 1, 1997 and January 29, 1999, and have claimed the Right of Abode, to have their status as permanent residents verified in accordance with the CFA decision.

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“It is estimated there are about 3,700 people in this category,” Tung told a news conference, announcing the NPC decision.

Tung rejected fierce protests in Hong Kong that his decision to appeal to the NPC for a reinterpretation of the Basic Law constitution had eroded the territory’s autonomy under Chinese rule. “Some Hong Kong people who do not fully appreciate the situation may be worried that our rule of law may be affected by this issue,” he said.

“I wish to assure these people that we will never permit the rule of law to be compromised,” said Tung. He added that the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong is governed by China was “an unprecedented historicendeavour. It’s understandable that some problems may arise during its implementation.”

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But Hong Kong’s Democratic Party leader, Martin Lee, blasted the NPC decision. “I’m very sad and angry … They have not come up with any good reason why they did this. That’s why I am compelled to think the (Chinese) central government has ulterior motives. It will like to control the courts.”

Hong Kong asked Beijing to reinterpret the Basic Law to overturn the CFA decision, which rules that any mainland-born children of Hong Kong residents can live in Hong Kong, regardless of whether they were born before their parents acquired permanent resident status or were born out of wedlock.The government had said the ruling from Hong Kong’s highest court would have led to an influx of 1.6 million mainlanders which would have a severe impact on the crowded, recession-hit territory.

Beijing said the CFA ruling was not consistent with the legislative intent of the Basic Law and that all pending and future cases must now bedecided in accordance with the revised laws.

First published on: 27-06-1999 at 12:00:00 am
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