CONVERSATION WITH EMILY LAU
SEPTEMBER 11, 1997
Before China took over Hong Kong two months ago, Emily Lau was a member of the national legislature. She lost her job when the Chinese dissolved the government and appointed Tung Chee-Hwa as chief executive. Ms. Lau talks to Elizabeth Farnsworth about the current situation in Hong Kong and Mr. Tung's controversial proposal for elections.
JIM LEHRER: Last night we talked to Hong Kong's new chief executive, Tung Chee Hwa. Tonight Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco gets a second opinion.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
September 10, 1997:
A conversation with the new chief executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-Hwa.
July 3, 1997:
Our correspondents in Hong Kong answer your questions about the handover, and the territory's future.
July 25, 1997:
Hong Kong's housing crisis tests the nation's relationship with China.
July 21, 1997:
While China has acquired Hong Kong after a century and a half of waiting, hundreds of Hong Kong's children are trying to stay in the city.
June 30, 1997:
A panel discussion on the meaning of the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China.
June 29, 1997:
Essayist Richard Rodriguez reflects on America's relationship with China.
June 23, 1997:
How the British will retreat from Hong Kong.
June 16, 1997:
Will China's communism bring drastic change, or business as usual?
June 10, 1996:
Just who is Tung Chee-hwa--the man who will take over Hong Kong when it is returned to Chinese control?
December 17, 1996:
Human rights abuses in China.
Online NewsHour's Asia Index.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We hear now from Emily Lau, who was one of the 27 directly elected members of the legislature disbanded when China took over in July. A long time pro-democracy activist, Lau vigorously and publicly protested that closure--you see her here with other opposition members draping a yellow banner around the legislature as a symbol of their desire for a return of democracy.
Lau is a graduate of the University of Southern California and former Hong Kong correspondent for the far Eastern Economic Review. She was the first and only woman directly elected to the legislature in 1991, and she polled the highest number of votes of all directly elected candidates in 1995. She is founder and spokesperson of The Frontier, a pro-democracy organization. She was invited to the United States by Human Rights Watch and the University of Southern California. Thank you for being with us.
EMILY LAU, Former Hong Kong Legislator: Thank you.
The changes since the Hong Kong turnover.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On this program last night, Hong Kong's chief executive Tung Chee Hwa said, "Hong Kong's way of life which we are used to hasn't changed since China took over." Do you agree with that?
EMILY LAU: Not at all. The first thing that happened when the Chinese Communist government took over was that the entire population, 6.3 million of us, were all disenfranchised, all of us were thrown out of the legislature, and the Chinese have appointed a provisional legislature to take our place.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Beyond that, just you personally, in your column, in your protest, do you feel your freedom to do these things threatened now?
EMILY LAU: It is true that right now we can still exercise free speech, and we can still have protest demonstrations, but even before the takeover, the government has already changed the law giving the power to the commissioner of police to regulate people's right to a public assembly and the right to association. So they have already taken very significant steps in eroding our civil liberties. The question is: When will the commissioner of police exercise those powers to crack down on us?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, so far, there haven't been cases where say a group either wants to register as an organization or wants to have a protest, and it's been refused?
EMILY LAU: That's true. You can say that. But you must ask the question of why did they change the law a few months ago.
A tight relationship between Mr. Tung and Beijing?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Tung also said last night had not interfered in his running of the internal affairs of Hong Kong. Do you know of any cases where China has directly interfered?
EMILY LAU: Well, I guess we will never know because in the past, when Chris Patten was governor, the Chinese screamed at him every day using megaphone diplomacy. So that's why we knew about the interference, about all the public dressing down that Chris Patten was getting from Peking. But now, how do we know how many phone calls, how many faxes, E-mails that Mr. Tung gets from Peking every day?
It's true that there are no public--public scolding, public dressing down of Mr. Tung, but I think it is far too early for us to jump to any conclusion, to say that Peking is not interfering. After all, he went up to Peking many times, and we all thought that he was going up there to get his orders. So if he's doing exactly what Peking tells him, why should they publicly interfere?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's get into some specific actions of the government now under Mr. Tung. On July 8th, he announced proposals for electing the first legislative council since the reversion. And this will--the elections will be next year. On the program last night he defended the new proposals as democratic. Would you explain what the proposals are and tell us what you think of them.
The election proposals: "A big retrograde step."
EMILY LAU: I don't think those proposals are democratic at all. Under the proposals 60 members will be elected next year to serve in the legislative council. Out of the 60 only 20--that means 1/3--would be elected by universal suffrage, by one person, one vote. The 2/3 would be elected by very limited franchise. In fact, one half, 30 of them would be elected by so-called functional constituencies. And who are these functional constituencies? They are the special interest groups like banks. The banks make up the financial constituencies. Each bank will have a vote, and they elect a banker. The Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, they are another constituency. Each company has a vote, and together they elect a businessman. If you are lucky enough to control forty/fifty companies, you have forty and fifty votes. And then some individuals too will have their special constituency, like lawyers. They together elect a lawyer. Doctors elect a doctor, architects, engineers, and so on. This is despicable. Most Hong Kong people are excluded from these constituencies.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Will you run in these elections next year?
EMILY LAU: I will run in the geographical constituencies, which are, of course, restricted to only 20, and the Democratic Party will run, we, the Frontier, will run. But even if we win all the seats, we will be in a tiny minority, and I also will have to give up my British citizenship to run because although the basic, our constitution, allows people with foreign citizenship to run, Mr. Tung has decided that only those who belong to 12 handpicked, functional constituencies can have foreign citizenship. If I want to run in the geographical constituency, I have to give up my British citizenship. And I will do that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it your contention--I mean, I know that some of these--some of the functional constituencies go back to the colonial period--is it your contention that the changes that Mr. Tung has promulgated are explicitly aimed at limiting the number of pro-democracy candidates who can win?
EMILY LAU: I think so because it's true that these functional constituencies were devised by the British in the 80's, but the Chinese loved them so much they enshrined them in the basic law, our mini constitution. But when the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, was there, he tried to democratize the functional constituencies by expanding the franchise to cover 2.7 million voters. Mr. Tung has now proposed to shrink that down to less than 200,000 people. So it is a big, big retrograde step.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Lau, what do you plan to do about your opposition to this, and to the other measures, the other aspects of the new rule that you mentioned? What will the Frontier, your group, and in the pro-democracy movement in general do?
The opposition will continue to speak out.
EMILY LAU: We will, of course, continue to speak out, and we will urge the Hong Kong people to speak out too. And we also want to inform our friends in America and in the international community of what's really going on, so when people tell you all this nonsense about business as usual, they are trying to mislead you. Don't be misled by these people. The people in Hong Kong want stability, and they want democracy, and they want their human rights to be protected. What we need is a system of checks and balances. We cannot allow the government to run wild. We need the government to be accountable. We need the system to be transparent, so we in Hong Kong will continue to keep up that fight, but we have no illusions about the difficulties ahead.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it your goal to organize a large, very large pro-democracy movement, is that your goal?
EMILY LAU: Yes. That's why we formed the Frontier in August last year because we found that many people have been intimidated into silence. They are afraid that if they speak out, if they criticize the Chinese government and the Tung government, then they may be persecuted in future because the Chinese government has a habit of settling accounts with its enemies. But we at the Frontier say we refuse to be intimidated into silence. But we know there could be dire consequences for those who speak out.
What should America say to Mr. Tung?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you hope to accomplish in the United States? What do you want the U.S. to do, people here?
EMILY LAU: I hope the American people, the American government, members of Congress , and the President, who will be meeting with Mr. Tung on Friday, will tell Mr. Tung in no uncertain terms that the people of America, the government of America, would like to see democracy prevail in Hong Kong. We are ready for democracy. We should get rid of all the functional constituencies immediately and give all the Hong Kong people an equal opportunity to choose their legislature and also to choose our chief executive as well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Emily Lau, thanks very much for being with us.
EMILY LAU: Thank you.