Despite the HK$6 price mentioned on the cover, the Hong Kong edition of China Daily seems to be pretty much a free newspaper. Indeed, judging from the way the women distributing it thrust it into your hands on the pedestrian walkways in Central every morning, it is practically compulsory.
It mentions something today that we will be hearing more of: the bid by a group of Filipino domestic helpers for Permanent Residency in Hong Kong after having lived here for seven years. Other residents of Hong Kong who do not have Chinese citizenship qualify for permanent status after that period of time, meaning in effect that you never again need to apply for a work permit or visa, you cannot be deported and you can vote. Maids who have applied in the past have always been turned down, and now some are seeking a judicial review.
One of the conditions of getting permanent residency is that you have taken Hong Kong as your place of permanent residence, and the government may argue that this is not the case with Southeastern Asian maids, who typically have a husband and children back home. But there must be some ‘normal’ (typically lighter-skinned) expatriates who have left their nearest and dearest in the US or UK and still claimed their Permanent ID card. The government may argue that the maids are hired on two-year contracts – but again, so must many other expatriates who went on to get PR.
However, the Filipinos are doomed to fail. The Hong Kong Lawyer pointed out that, among other things, the local restrictions on foreign maids are pretty much in line with many other jurisdictions. Also, the government began sneakily taking precautions around 2005 or so, issuing maids with new ID card numbers and getting them, the next time they renewed their visa, to answer a devious pair of questions: ‘Have you acquired permanent residence in your country/territory of domicile?’ and length of residence in that domicile…
Answer ‘yes’, and you by definition declared that you had not taken Hong Kong as your place of domicile.
More to the point, however, it makes no difference what our local courts say. They are being asked to rule on the wording of the Basic Law, and if they come up with the wrong decision the government in Beijing, whose law it is, can simply pronounce a new meaning for the wording, under the rubber-stamp mechanism known as interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. The prospect of thousands of Filipinos settling here and bringing their kids over horrifies the Hong Kong government and much of the citizenry. Even the most liberal among us must admit that it is hard to imagine how the Big Lychee could possibly survive the shock of an influx of incessantly smiling, energetic people with halfway-decent English.
The China Daily article seems curiously preoccupied about the apparent danger of these brown-skinned interlopers getting the vote, forming a ‘virtual Filipino Party’ and packing the Legislative Council. The truth is that they would form several dozen constantly bickering political groups that would get nowhere, but the writer’s concerns are interesting.
He is one Song Sio-chong. According to the database, he has sat on the board of one Chinese People Holdings (check out the titles of the press announcements for a clue) and on the Central Policy Unit (which these days is more of a United Front propaganda outfit than anything else) and teaches at the funny little Shue Yan liberal arts university. A quick rummage around Google reveals that he has also held some position with Mainland legal firm China Law Office and has been styled ‘Ir’ , the bizarre title adopted by inadequate engineers jealous of doctors. And he claims a PhD and LLD from Peking U. Other than that, we know little.
Song says it is just as well that the Basic Law is subject to what he calls ‘purposive interpretation’ (that is, Beijing can change the meaning of the wording at will) because the influx of Filipinos “would be disastrous politically and economically.” Among the calamities he foresees are double-digit unemployment among low-skilled Chinese workers here; if the effect of Mainland immigration is any indicator, he could actually be right – though he doesn’t mention that source of labour. He also fancies that welfare expenditure would double or triple; this sounds absurd on the face of it, though given the size of Filipino families anything is possible.
All that, and “more seats in LegCo occupied by foreign domestic workers.” In fact, only Chinese citizens, not other permanent residents, are eligible for direct election to the legislature, so Song is talking rubbish here. He doesn’t share his thoughts on all the evil Western barbarians who can vote in Hong Kong, but foreign-ness is certainly a problem. The brown-skinned hordes would, he tells readers, “be a strong political power in the HKSAR and have a vital role to play in the city under ‘One Country Two Systems’. I do not believe it would meet either the legislative intent or the very purpose of the Basic Law.”
And now we get to the heart of the matter. It cannot be the intent of the Basic Law, Song says, to ruin the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. “Alas, the future of Hong Kong rests upon the hand of a few judges!”
The China Daily article is essentially an allegory. For ‘the dangers of people with brown skin’ read ‘the threat of rule of law’.