Experts confirm liaison office's role not limited by Article 22

Hong Kong's liaison chief Luo Huining addresses the media on Jan 6, 2020. (Photo: China Daily)

Political and legal experts in Hong Kong said on Sunday because the work of the central government's top liaison office in the city is not limited by Article 22 of the Basic Law, its earlier comments on Hong Kong should not be seen to have unduly interfered in local affairs.

Their remarks were in line with the Friday statement by the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, which was published online in response to criticisms against it and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) for commenting on the filibustering tactics of opposition lawmakers.

In the statement, the office said the two offices are different from the departments and institutions of the central government as prescribed in Article 22 of the Basic Law in general sense. They are dedicated departments, as authorized by the central government, to oversee Hong Kong affairs.

Article 22 stipulates that no departments of the central government may interfere in the affairs administered by the SAR government on its own in accordance with the Basic Law.

Hong Kong's National People's Congress Standing Committee Deputy Tam Yiu-chung, who once worked at the Basic Law draft committee, said central government departments that are forbidden to interfere in Hong Kong's local affairs are those under the provincial and municipal authorities. The two offices do not fall into this category, he said.

No one could call that interference if the concerned bodies are carrying out their responsibilities, said Tam.

He added that commenting on the functioning of the legislature under the Basic Law is within the framework of such responsibilities.

Lawmaker and former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said both the liaison office and the HKMAO are part of the central government, rather than departments established by the central government in Hong Kong.

She also said that what are forbidden by the Article 22 do not include works that relate to implementing the Basic Law. Ip said what the two offices did were helping to better implement the Basic Law.

Legal scholar Albert Chen Hung-yee said the statements by the central government's bodies did not violate the Basic Law.

The Liaison Office was not established under Article 22(2) of the Basic Law, said Chan. The authorized body of the central government had existed in Hong Kong long before its return to the motherland in 1997. It was known as the Xinhua News Agency's Hong Kong branch.

When the State Council decided to rename the agency to the liaison office in December 1999, it was not required to consult the SAR government in advance. However, departments established under Article 22 of the Basic Law must do so, Chen elaborated.

Chen noted that one of the functions of the Liaison Office is to oversee the implementation of the Basic Law in Hong Kong. Stating its positions on major issues of the society falls into the domain of performing such a duty.

He stressed making the statements which were not legally binding was not directing the SAR government. It's up to the SAR government to handle the statements, he said, adding, that was not "interference".