[Documents menu] Documents menu

‘Sovereignty to the people’

From an open letter to President Jiang Zemin, South China Morning Press, Tuesday 8 May 2001

This is an edited extract from an open letter to President Jiang Zemin from 18 local labour and religious groups protesting the holding of the Fortune Global Forum. Their eight Chinese character advertisement, stating `Sovereignty to the people, wealth shared by all', appears in Ming Pao today.

To: President Jiang Zemin. With your arrival in Hong Kong to attend the Fortune Global Forum, you glorify globalisation as the model to enhance the wealth of the countries in Asia, but what we see is that the free-market system you embrace does not bring wealth to the common people. Rather, what we see is transnational corporations stealing the resources of the world and making workers more vulnerable, their working conditions more intolerable and the gulf between the rich and poor more entrenched.

Presently, as China awaits entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the gap between the rich and poor is widening with a gini-coefficient that measures income distribution of 0.456, a high figure, especially for a nation that calls itself socialist. This gap is reflected in the unemployed population of China that now stands at 140 million workers and the decreasing income of peasants. These hardships will become even more of a burden when China enters the WTO.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Government extols Hong Kong's success because of its free-trade economic system, but Hong Kong's economy, in reality, is facing a great crisis. Hong Kong's gini-coefficient is 0.52, which indicates that the gap between the rich and the poor is the greatest among the developed countries. The difference between the income of the 20 per cent of the highest income families and the 20 per cent of the lowest income families is 23 times. The population of the poor in Hong Kong is now more than one million people. Their employment is never secure, and working conditions are getting worse. Moreover, occupational health and safety in the workplace is more precarious as more industrial accidents are occurring. We believe that after China enters the WTO the lives of workers will become even worse.

Thus, you come to Hong Kong to sell to us and the world this global free-trade system. You tell us everyone will benefit from free trade, but the people who really benefit from this system are a small number of business tycoons while the majority of the poor will become even more marginalised.

We believe that, as the leader of the country, your responsibility is to ensure that the nation's wealth is shared by all. Now, since Hong Kong and China are facing difficult times, only a more equal distribution of wealth will lead to a real economic alternative for the poor and will eventually bring social stability, but what a pity it is that our Hong Kong Government does not guarantee or provide comprehensive social security for the people. Instead, it promotes the privatisation of public services and the subcontracting of government projects, which breaks the workers' rice bowls.

The imbalance of economic power among the people in Hong Kong is because of the imbalance in political power. Presently, directly-elected legislators comprise only 40 per cent of the Legislative Council seats whereas the voting bloc system and the limitations on tabling private member's bills inhibit the ability of Legco to monitor the Government. Recently, the Government proposed that senior civil servants must be more accountable; but without a directly-elected legislative system, this will only expand the Chief Executive's power. Meanwhile, senior civil servants will not dare criticise or disagree with the views of the Chief Executive.

We believe that the people are the master of the country. To actualise the real sovereignty of the nation, we must protect people's rights. Sovereignty and human rights are not mutually exclusive; sovereignty should not override human rights. However, respect for human rights in China and Hong Kong is still deteriorating. For example, the voices of dissidents in China are still being silenced, and dissidents on the mainland continue to be arrested. The religious freedom of Falun Gong practitioners is also being denied, and the Public Order Ordinance in Hong Kong further violates people's civil rights.

As China enters the global economic system, many cities of China are becoming internationalised. Hong Kong is already an international city, but Hong Kong's international character is only reflected in the economic arena. A truly international city is a place of diversity with diverse people living together. Through this exchange, people re-create a new culture together. Therefore, an international city must strive to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to move towards an inclusive and tolerant society.

An inclusive society must affirm the basic rights of individual groups, must affirm and respect their unique culture and contribution. An international city should not seek to strive for homogeneity but should instead nurture different groups to express their diversity to make life in the community more vibrant. However, the policy of the Hong Kong Government moves the community in the opposite direction and creates divisions. For example, people who receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance are stigmatised, and divisions have been created between Hong Kong's citizens and new immigrants from the mainland.

Globalisation not only destroys the environment but also, in the name of development, breaks the natural interdependence between people and the environment. Very often the most vulnerable are those who are powerless.