Hong Kong in crisis over one little boy

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The Independent Online
ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD Chan Sai-hung does not look like someone at the heart of Hong Kong's most serious constitutional crisis since it returned to Chinese rule almost two years ago.

But this schoolboy is one of the people the Hong Kong government says represents an "unbearable burden" on the community. The burden is so unbearable that yesterday it had a decision on immigration by Hong Kong's highest court overturned by the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), a body normally described as a "rubber-stamp parliament".

Sai-hung was smuggled into Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland because his father was not prepared to risk indefinite separation from his son, who was born on the mainland but, when the British ruled Hong Kong, was only entitled to join his parents at the discretion of the Chinese authorities. This could mean waiting decades.

In January the Court of Final Appeal ruled against the government in a test case. This established that under Hong Kong's new mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, everyone born to a Hong Kong resident had the right of abode, including Sai-hung. His parents took him to be registered at the immigration department but they found the authorities wanted to deport him. "We felt cheated," his father said.

He underestimated the extraordinary response of the authorities. China's most avid supporters in Hong Kong called for the court ruling to be overturned by a direct edict from Peking. This provoked an uproar about threats to the rule of law.

Then in April the government declared that if the court ruling was to be implemented, some 1.67 million people would flood in from China. Officials claimed that living standards would plummet and taxpayers would be presented with a bill of pounds 5.7bn over a 10-year period.

The propaganda campaign appears to have succeeded, as opinion polls show most people favour the court decision being overturned. However, the government's critics, which include most lawyers and all the political parties outside the pro-Peking camp, are alarmed about the consequences of the government's decision to ask the NPC to "reinterpret" the Basic Law so that no more than 200,000 people can enter Hong Kong under the right of abode.

Yesterday, one day after announcing its decision, the government went to the legislature for endorsement of its decision - and received it. But the government's motion was passed with less than two-thirds of the 60-strong chamber present, as more than 20 pro-democracy legislators had walked out of the stormy debate to protest against the government's move.

The pro-democracy lawmakers accused the government of dealing a death blow to the territory's independent legal system. Margaret Ng, a barrister who represents the legal constituency in the legislature, said: "This government is not fit to govern. "It's a catastrophe Hong Kong has fallen into its hands."