The Chief Executive and the Secretary for Justice have both said that basic principles of the Basic law cannot be changed, though CY Leung stated that some articles were more important than others and the latter disagreed.

The question came up after Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was captured on video as saying last week that she did not agree with Article 107 of the Basic Law on public finance and that protecting the Basic Law does not mean one needs to agree with every article. She later claimed her words were misconstrued by a newspaper.

Asked about the incident, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the Basic Law can be modified, but some articles cannot be amended.

Leung Chun-ying. Photo: GovHK.

“Article 159(4) states that no amendment shall contravene the established basic policies of the People’s Republic of China regarding Hong Kong – therefore, those articles on the basic policies cannot be amended,” he said ahead of a regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.

“Therefore, there are different degrees of importance in these 160 articles [of the Basic Law].”

Soon after, justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung responded to Leung’s statement while attending an event in Shenzhen. Yuen said that every article is important.

“I will not say that different Basic Law articles have different degrees of importance,” Yuen said.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung. File Photo: GovHK.

Yuen said the fundamental issue stated in Article 159(4) is not only in the Basic Law but also in the constitutions of other places.

“I believe we should not say which article of the Basic Law is important and which article is not – every article is important to Hong Kong – just that the amending mechanism has been clearly stated in the Basic Law, and some cannot be amended, this provides very important protection to the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle.”

“If Article 159(4) does not exist, the basic components of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle can be changed – it may have deep and even negative effects on the fundamental aspect of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle,” he added.

Yuen said that Articles 1 and 12 stating that Hong Kong is a part of China cannot be changed.

From left to right: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow. Photo: Joshua Wong via Facebook.

He also said that the Basic Law states that Hong Kong people have freedom of speech, but this freedom is also limited by law, such as libel laws. He reiterated that the decision of returning officers to ban candidates who advocated independence from joining the upcoming election was not “strangling anyone’s freedom of speech and political freedom.”

“But the whole legal framework does not allow some who violated the Basic Law [to run],” he said, adding that the returning officers have the power and responsibility to make the decision.

Speaking on Monday’s court ruling for three student activists who stormed a government square in 2014, Yuen said it showed that Hong Kong’s judiciary is independent. He added that people should use legal means to express their opinions, no matter what political views they hold.


Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.