CityU: RCCL Conference on “Governance, Democratization and Constitutional Reform: Definition of Political Structure of the HKSAR and Its Reform”

Recent events, such as the Beijing White Paper (in which Central Authority Officials called for Hong Kong judges to be “administrators” who “love Hong Kong and China”), the Occupy Central Movement, the Mongkok Riot, the advocacy of Hong Kong independence, and the controversies surrounding the 2017 Chief Executive Election, have mired Hong Kong in the greatest political tension since the handover. Society has become unprecedentedly and severely divided. Many people, including scholars, politicians and ordinary citizens, believe the existing political structure of the HKSAR is a major cause of political and social unrest, placing particular emphasis on the “executive-led government”.

While political debates can be heated, in-depth rational academic discussions and studies on the political and constitutional system of the HKSAR, as well as the implications of “executive-led government”, both under the Basic Law and in practice in the HKSAR, are lacking. To address this gap, the Centre for Chinese and Comparative Law (“RCCL”) of the School of Law of City University organised a conference from 23–24 June 2016. The central aim of the Conference was to examine current concepts, theories and principles guiding the governance and operation of the HKSAR from a more holistic (historical, theoretical, practical, and comparative wherever possible) perspective; and to correctly define and predict the future direction of political and constitutional reform. The whole conference was divided into five sessions, with each focusing on a particular theme. Nineteen speakers from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China participated in this Conference, sharing with all conference participants their views on issues such as (i) the governance structure and the role of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR under the Basic Law; (ii) the nature and characteristics of HKSAR’s political system; (iii) the relationship between the judiciary and the executive branch in HKSAR; (iv) the role of the Central Authorities in HKSAR’s governance; and (v) the meanings and contents of “executive-led government” and separation of powers in theory and in practice.

The Conference was kicked off by the welcome speech of our Acting Dean and Director of the RCCL Prof. Lin Feng. The Conference convenor Prof. Zhu Guobin of our Law School then introduced the Conference’s background and the aim.

The first panel session was moderated by Prof. Zhu Guobin. Its focus was the Basic Law and governance of the HKSAR. We were honoured to have the Director of the Law Department of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR Prof. Wang Zhenmin, Senior Counsel of the HKSAR and Convenor of Path of Democracy Mr. Ronny Tong SC, and Prof. Lin Feng of our Law School to feature as panelists during this session.

The second session was moderated by Prof. Simon Young (Associated Dean & Professor, Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong), and examined the nature and characteristics of the HKSAR’s political system. Panel speakers included: Prof. Chen Duanhong (Professor, School of Law, Peking University); Prof. Wang Lei (Professor, School of law, Peking University); and Dr. Zhu Shihai (Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Macau University of Science and Technology).

After defining the political structure of the HKSAR under the Basic Law, session three explored issues relating to political reform of the HKSAR and the power of the Central Authorities. The session was moderated by Prof. Lin Feng, Dr. Cheng Jie (Associate Professor, School of Law, Tsinghua University). Dr. Wang Shucheng (Assistant Professor, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong), Prof. Albert Chen (Cheng Chan Lan Yue Professor in Constitutional Law, Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong), and Dr. P.Y. Lo (Barrister, HKSAR; Member, Council of the Hong Kong Bar Association) led the panel discussion.

On the second day of the conference, panel sessions explored the concepts of an “executive-led government” and separation of powers. Participants of these two sessions included: Dr. Mark Kielsgard (Assistant Professor, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong); Prof. Zhu Guobin; Dr. Tian Feilong (Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Beihang University); Prof. Zhang Dinghuai (Professor, Centre for Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions, Shenzhen University); Prof. Michael Davis (Professor, Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong); Mr. Danny Gittings (Associate Professor, College of Humanities and Law, School of Professional and Continuing Education, The University of Hong Kong); Dr. Huang Mingtao (Associate Professor, School of Law, Wuhan University); and Dr. Li Xiaobing (Associate Professor, School of Law, Nankai University).

While the term “separation of powers” is well known to everyone studying politics and/or law, as Mr. Gittings pointed out, this Conference was the first academic conference ever that made “separation of powers” a significant part of a conference. Discussions during these two panel sessions proved that such an arrangement was both appropriate and necessary: while the term itself looks simple on the surface, an in-depth study will find that it may have different interpretations and contents.

Prof. Zhu Guobin concluded the conference with a few closing remarks, in which he thanked the conference speakers for their contributions, as well as emphasised the solid foundation this Conference has laid for further studies on issues relating to the political system and governance of the HKSAR.