As one of his first acts after taking office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to convene a summit of democracies. The goal is to advance individual rights and equality in democracies and countries with few civil liberties. His plan appears to be aimed at China, where the rights of the people are subordinated to the reign of leader Xi Jinping. One guest Mr. Biden may wish to invite is Judge Anderson Chow of the High Court of Hong Kong.
On Thursday, Judge Chow ruled that the Chinese Territory government violated the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. During massive pro-democracy protests last year, he said, police failed to have ID badges worn and provide an independent review of police abuse. No matter how serious the public emergency, Judge Chow wrote, fundamental rights must always be respected by the government and protected by the courts.
The ruling is a courageous stance for what remains of democracy in Hong Kong and its independent judiciary 23 years after Britain returned the colony to Beijing. Pro-democracy lawmakers have been sidelined, much of the free press has been muzzled, and many protesters have fled for fear of arrest. Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam even said in September that there was no separation of powers in government.
Ms Lams’ remark stiffened the spine of the judges in court. In a reprimand, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li warned in a statement that the judiciary should not be politicized. While Xi said the rule of law means the law governing the Communist Party, the city’s judges see themselves as independent legal professionals working under a constitution focused on the equality of all citizens as having the power to interpret the law and verify the authority of the state without fear or favor of a party.
Both views are exactly what Mr. Bidens’ Democracy Summit must address as it takes on the task of dealing with China promoting its unitary and arbitrary model of governance.
I will put values back at the center of our foreign policy, including how we approach the US-China relationship, Biden said in August. He also promises to fully implement Hong Kong’s Human Rights and Democracy Law signed by President Donald Trump last year.
China today is no longer the China of Deng Xiaoping, the leader after the anti-Mao law era. Deng said in 1978 that democracy must be institutionalized and enshrined in law, to ensure that institutions and laws don’t change whenever leadership changes.
The people of Hong Kong, who have shown the world how much they love freedom, deserve a place in any global forum on democracy. They know first hand how equal rights and the rule of democratic law, rather than the vagaries of personal rule, contribute to a thriving society.
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