Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong Zhang Xiaoming has come under fire after saying that the chief executive’s powers surpass those of the legislature and judiciary and that the separation of powers “does not suit Hong Kong.”

Martin Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party, called Zhang’s remarks “scary” while a teachers group called the assertion “absurd.”

Speaking in an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Basic Law on Saturday, Zhang said Hong Kong will not implement the “Western practice of separation of three powers.”

Director of the Central Government's Liaison Office, Zhang Xiaoming
Director of the Central Government’s Liaison Office, Zhang Xiaoming. Photo: NowTV screengrab.

Zhang said the city’s top government official, the chief executive, has “a special legal position” which gives him “overriding power over executive, legislative and judicial organs.”

Martin Lee and others in the opposition pan-democrat camp have refuted Zhang’s assertion, saying the separation of three powers already exist in Hong Kong and that the CE cannot have powers that are unchecked.

martin lee
Martin Lee. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

If the CE is above the courts, Lee told RTHK, that means he can get away with violating the law, a “very scary” possibility.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong said Zhang’s words “gave him shivers.”

“If [Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying is above legislative, executive and judicial powers, then what’s the difference between Leung Chun-ying and a feudal emperor?” Leong said on radio.

Leong said the separation of powers “has always been there,” adding that courts can amend the government’s mistakes through judicial review and the Legislative Council can probe into the government’s wrongdoings using its special powers.

The Progressive Teachers Alliance called Zhang’s words “absurd” in an op-ed published on The group said Zhang was trying to “tamper with the Basic Law” and “trample on Hongkongers’ core value of the rule of law.”

Op-ed by Progressive Teachers Alliance. Photo: Inmedia
Op-ed by Progressive Teachers Alliance. Photo: Inmedia

The Hong Kong University Student Union’s Social Science Society has issued an open letter to Zhang urging him to retract his remarks.

However, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has thrown her support behind Zhang, slamming “some people” for criticising Zhang “for the sake of criticising.”

Speaking to reporters after returning from an Australian visit, Lam said the Basic Law clearly states the powers and responsibilities of the chief executive. “No sensible person” will assume the CE has unchecked powers, Lam said.

Albert Chen, a member of the Basic Law Committee, said the CE is above legislative, executive and judicial powers, but only “symbolically.”

Zhang’s comments also sparked debate in mainland China. On popular news portal Sina, commentators voiced out support for Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy.

Mainland netizens comment on a story about Zhang’s remarks.

“Support Hong Kong’s path to democracy,” a comment from Guangdong said. It was liked almost 2,000 times over the weekend before disappearing.

Of over 85,000 comments on Sina, only 140 were shown. Photo: Sina
Of over 85,000 comments on Sina, only 140 were shown. Photo: Sina

By Monday morning, more than 85,000 comments were recorded under a story about Zhang’s controversial remarks. Among them, only 140 were visible.

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Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.