By W.B. Yeung, Progressive Lawyers Group

The July 1 march was born out of that historic period in 2003, when opposition to the proposed Article 23 national security law grew so vociferous that the Civil Human Rights Front (民間人權陣線) was formed to consolidate opposition views, which resulted in the organisation of the July 1 protest. The 2003 march was a landmark event that continues to provides a reference point for the Hong Kong civic movement. Since 2003, the Civil Human Rights Front has continued to organise the march annually. The exact themes vary from year to year, but inevitably revolve around civil rights and a call for greater democracy.

This year’s march comes less than two weeks after the government’s constitutional reform package for the 2017 Chief Executive election was rejected by the Legislative Council. Cynics of the democracy movement now say that it was the pro-democracy camp which brought an end to its own cause by refusing to “pocket” what was offered. With the current legislative year winding down, a clear structure for political reform or a new reform roadmap has yet to emerge. Without a clear “cause” for the July 1 protest, one expects that many people will be hesitant to face the heat and discomfort of marching for hours alongside thousands of people.

But the lack of a clear and pressing “cause” does not mean there is no reason to march. The 2003 protest was such a landmark occasion that one often forgets the original significance of July 1.

On 1 July 1997, it was not just the Chinese national flag that was raised, but also the Hong Kong bauhinia flag. Pro-establishment groups refer to July 1 as the “resumption of sovereignty” but to celebrate it merely as such demeans the significance of that event. On that day, Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region – established under “One Country, Two Systems”, containing a common law system with its own constitutional regime enshrining the rule of law and civil rights principles – was born.

2014 July 1st Rally
2014 July 1st Rally. Photo: Pasu Au Yeung via Flickr

As a lawyer with democratic yearnings, I see no reason to celebrate the swapping of one sovereign master for another. But I do see a reason to celebrate the birth of the Hong Kong SAR with a unique constitution that specifically incorporates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and makes reference to the evolving principles of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as common law rights.

To me, it is right to celebrate the birth of the Court of Final Appeal, which has stated positively that it will interpret the Basic Law as a living document intended to meet the changing needs and circumstances of the city. There is reason to celebrate the civic spirit of Hong Kongers, with their inherent sense of justice and social equality which drives them to speak out, as they have done on many occasions. I celebrate the creativity and intelligence of a new generation of Hong Kongers, who have only ever lived in Hong Kong as a SAR, and are deeply willing to engage in public affairs. I celebrate the fact that Hong Kong has all the software and the hardware to forge a strong sense of identity and continue to write our own history notwithstanding the numerous obstacles in front of us.

The march to a harmonious and just society is unceasing and will inevitably have to overcome countless hurdles. In spite of the growing democracy movement arising from the 2003 protests, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decided in April 2004 that the 2007 Chief Executive Elections and 2008 LegCo elections could not be by universal suffrage. In December 2007, Anson Chan Fang On-sang won a seat in the legislature after a one-on-one contest against Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee on a platform of universal suffrage for both Chief Executive and LegCo in 2012. And yet in December 2007, the NPCSC again handed down a Decision stating that universal suffrage for the Chief Executive could only be implemented in 2017, and for LegCo only after the Chief Executive has been elected by universal suffrage. And in spite of what was called a “consultation” for the method of universal suffrage in 2017, the NPCSC’s Decision on 31 August 2014 effectively killed off hopes of implementing genuine universal suffrage for the 2017 election.

And yet after each setback, the people of Hong Kong marched on. Every time we gather together and exercise our rights enshrined in the Basic Law, we forge an even stronger identity of who we are as Hong Kongers and ensure we play a part in writing the next chapter of our own history. As a legal practitioner, I believe that the just result can only be discovered through argument and counter-argument. So every time our voices are rebutted by the sovereign masters in Beijing, the Hong Kong people do not stand still, but edge a little bit closer to getting the right result. We have always been on the path of gradual and orderly progress, and will continue to be so long as we are willing to express our views.

So on July 1, no matter what “cause” is at the top of each person’s priority list, Hong Kongers will continue to march, and in doing so, celebrate the birth of the Hong Kong SAR and the continued forging of a stronger identity. Let us march on with confidence and pride that the birth of the Hong Kong SAR gave us the chance to take responsibility for own future.

W.B. Yeung practices law, while constantly fearing the second coming.

The Progressive Lawyers Group is a group of Hong Kong lawyers dedicated to promoting core values of rule of law, judicial independence, democracy, human rights, freedom, and justice.