Chinese state puts itself above HK law

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The Independent Online
THE Hong Kong government yesterday rushed through legislation which will exempt Chinese state organisations from the territory's laws. The move has brought the new administration into confrontation with the legal profession, human-rights organisations and the opposition.

Not only is the change controversial but the speed with which it was steamrollered through the unelected legislature has also been criticised. The unelected body completes its final sitting today and will be replaced next month by an elected council which is far less likely meekly to endorse this legislation.

The government insists it had to act quickly to prevent a "legal vacuum" emerging. It stresses that the new law is merely "technical", simply replacing all references to the "Crown" with the term "State".

The Bar Association said the new law "raises fundamental constitutional issues. We strongly disagree that it is 'straightforward' or 'technical' or 'mere adaptation', as described by the administration".

Critics argue that the new law not only creates a group of institutions which are above the law but contradicts the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini- constitution passed after the end of British rule. The Basic Law specifically states that all Chinese government offices in Hong Kong "shall abide by the laws of the region".

Elise Leung, Secretary for Justice, said Chinese government organisations will still have to abide by the law and the new statute does no more than "maintain the situation as it was under British rule". It is unclear which organisations are covered by this exemption. It seems likely, for example, that the New China News Agency will benefit but it is uncertain whether state-controlled companies operating in Hong Kong will also enjoy this privilege.