WASHINGTON – For people in Hong Kong, the first 10 years of Chinese rule has been “a long series of frustrations,” said Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.
“On the surface, everything is like before,” Cardinal Zen told Catholic News Service in Washington May 30. However, he added, Chinese government authorities “are not keeping their promises.”
For instance, he said, although universal suffrage is contained in the Basic Law, the miniconstitution that governs Hong Kong until 2047, Chinese officials ruled out direct elections of the Hong Kong chief executive in 2007 and the special administrative region’s legislature in 2008.
“They are always directed by fear,” the cardinal said. “They are full of fear about Hong Kong people because we protest” and, “for communists, anyone who protests is the enemy.”
In May 1989, while Hong Kong was still under British control, 1 million residents protested the Chinese crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control and became a special administrative region of China in 1997.
“From the very beginning of the handover, we were pushed to the position of opposition,” Cardinal Zen said. He said the first 10 years of “one country, two systems” – the slogan used to describe China’s relationship with Hong Kong – were wasted with continuous quarreling initiated by the Chinese government.
During those years, the church in Hong Kong “tried to be the voice for the voiceless,” he said.
The cardinal said the church took the government to court over a law that would allow 40 percent of Catholic schools’ management to be elected by teachers, alumni and parents. Under the law, scheduled to take effect in 2010, church officials could only appoint 60 percent of the school management. Although the court upheld the law, the church plans to appeal.
He said the church fought to defend the right of abode for mainland-born children of Hong Kong residents. Church leaders, especially Cardinal Zen, also spoke out against the implementation of a government security law.
In 2003, on the anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong, Cardinal Zen led about 10,000 Christians in a prayer service before half a million people marched to protest the security law. The cardinal did not join the march, but went to a nearby church to pray.
The cardinal told CNS that a communist friend of his told him later that, after that date, he had become classified as an “enemy.” He said the Chinese government told him he needed an invitation to visit mainland China.
In 2004 he visited Shanghai for three days, and in 2005 he was part of a large delegation of leaders of six religions who visited mainland China.
The cardinal said he was visiting the United States and Canada to talk to Catholics of Chinese descent about the situation in China and Hong Kong and about relations between the Vatican and China. He also spoke to them about a letter Pope Benedict XVI is writing to Chinese Catholics.
Later, at a Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he urged those present – including dozens of members of the local Chinese Catholic community – to pray that the letter would be received well.