Simon Hoey Lee, member of the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, in HK01 (March 26, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Samuel Wong)
In 2004, a group of citizens drafted a declaration of Hong Kong's core values, which they stated were "freedom and democracy, the rule of human rights and the rule of law, fairness and justice, peace and love, integrity and transparency, diversity and tolerance, respect for individuals, and professionalism". These must be upheld for Hong Kong’s continued development, they asserted.
This stirred up some controversy then as these values were based on those of Western democratic societies and failed to take into account many of the unique elements of Hong Kong. In particular, the focus on individualism meant that the importance of the hard work of past generations of Hong Kong citizens were overlooked. The "Lion Rock Spirit", for example, which embodies hard work and solidarity, was a factor behind Hong Kong’s rise.
It goes without saying that the rule of law is the basic core value of Hong Kong. It covers human rights, justice, peace, benevolence, honesty and tolerance. Democracy, however, never existed in Hong Kong under colonial rule, and only part of a democratic system was introduced two years before the handover. As such, democracy cannot be regarded as a core value.
Democracy is not a panacea. It cannot guarantee the prosperity of society. The rule of law, however, can bring security and social stability, through which wealth can accumulate and the economy can develop. Singapore and Hong Kong do not figure very highly in assessments of democracy, yet they have good judicial systems and are at the top of the global prosperity rankings. By contrast, India and the Philippines rank higher in democracy, yet their levels of rule of law and prosperity lag far behind.
Democracy is inherently good. But without an in-depth understanding, the pursuit of “Western democracy” undermines Hong Kong’s established rule of law traditions.