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What Hong Kong's Laws Say About When The Chinese Military Can Intervene


As the protests continue, there are fears the Chinese government might intervene with military force. There's been a reported buildup of troops along Hong Kong's border. And joining us now to talk about the legal implications of that is Martin Lee. He's a Hong Kong politician and lawyer and the founding chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.



CHANG: I understand you were personally involved in drafting Hong Kong's mini Constitution after the handover to Beijing. What is the rule for when the Chinese military can intervene in Hong Kong?

LEE: When the idea was first announced, there are two important conditions. The first is that we must have democratic elections, all right? The other one is that China must not intervene. If Hong Kong government does not request such assistance, it is not proper for the Beijing authorities to think that it is desirable to deploy their troops in Hong Kong and therefore use them. They can intervene only if the Hong Kong government finds it necessary to have the assistance of the garrison, which is already stationed in Hong Kong.

CHANG: Do you think that the leadership of Hong Kong can decide independent of what Beijing wants whether military intervention is necessary?

LEE: Yeah, we wanted the chief executive to be elected by the people of Hong Kong. And it was written into the basic law that the ultimate aim is to have universal suffrage, both for the election of the chief executive, as well as all members of the legislature. Now unfortunately, Beijing kept on postponing that ultimate objective again and again. Therefore, the chief executive, who is supposed to defend Hong Kong's rights and rule of law and everything, is now completely beholden to Beijing. So if Beijing wants to deploy its troops in Hong Kong, Beijing will simply ring her up and say hey, you better request our assistance. And of course, we are sure that she would not dare to say no.

CHANG: She, Carrie Lam, the executive.

LEE: Yes.

CHANG: So as Beijing weighs its options now for how to handle Hong Kong, what do you think the political risks are facing the Chinese Communist Party if the military becomes involved?

LEE: Well, once the army is deployed, everybody in the world will know that well, the one country, two systems doesn't work anymore.

CHANG: Do you think Beijing cares about proving or disproving the success of that idea?

LEE: Well, that, of course, is the question. If Beijing doesn't care, Beijing can simply declare we want to put an end to the one country, two systems. Well, Beijing can of course do so, but Beijing would then be rewriting its agreement with the British government, which they signed in 1984 and registered with the United Nations.

CHANG: At this point, what parts of the global audience do you think Beijing cares about?

LEE: I think the government which really matters is the U.S. government, before the British government, even though the latter is the signatory.

CHANG: So what would you like to see the U.S. do?

LEE: Well, Hong Kong is the key to China when it comes to international relations. If China were to follow Hong Kong's systems, which was the original idea of Deng Xiaoping - when he created this policy of one country, two systems, he wanted China to improve so that at the end of that 50-year period, China would be at par with Hong Kong in terms of freedoms and rule of law and so on.

CHANG: How sustainable do you think this one country, two systems vision is?

LEE: Well, it cannot last for long. Because of the lack of democracy, our chief executive is forever beholden to Beijing. So she is not defending our core values at all. And the young people are. And they are prepared to give up their young lives to defend the city. Some of them have written wills already.

CHANG: Martin Lee is a lawyer and Democratic advocate.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

LEE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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