This year is the 800th anniversary of the issuing of Magna Carta, a milestone that has been marked around the world. The Magna Carta 800 global tour has been put together by the great campaign, an ongoing effort to promote Britain as a tourist and investment destination. British officials have hailed Magna Carta’s arrival in China as the latest milestone in a “golden era” of UK-China relations during which Xi will pay a state visit to Britain this week.
Magna Carta came to symbolize a commitment to the rule of law. By the fourteenth century reconfirmation of Magna Carta by Parliament became a regular public event by which members of Parliament asserted the king’s obligation to uphold the rule of law. Modern research has revealed as many as forty-four distinct, reaffirmations of Magna Carta, with the last occurring in 1423.
The Magna Carta, considered to be the founding document for the democratic traditions exported by Britain to nations around the world, including the United States, will remain on public view during 2015. Since most ordinary Chinese have not even heard of the document, what follows is a snapshot of how Chinese intellectuals think about Magna Carta. And there are two kinds of perspectives. On the one hand: Magna Carta is seen to be primarily, if not all, about individual rights and freedoms, especially those against the ever intrusive government/state.
As in many other countries, this has long been the mainstream position in China. On this front, Zhang Junmai’s translation-commentary of Magna Carta in 1944 is most revealing. Zhang (1887-1969) an eminent scholar-statesman of his time, drafted the 1946 Republic of China Constitution, which still provides the foundation for the constitutional regime in Taiwan today. Zhang distilled Magna Carta down to two mutually reinforcing things: limitation of the supreme power and the protection of human rights.
The second; alternative view has been put forth recently in a Chinese article titled “Two Fates of the Great Charters,” (see The Dipolomat “China and MagnaCarta” July 23th) which introduces to the Chinese readers a newly published book called Magna Carta: Central & East European Perspectives. In that article, based on the findings of the book, the author highlighted the fact that historic documents containing privileges of the nobility vis-à-vis the king were also present in many East European countries.
The Chinese author therefore concluded: The success of Magna Carta is rooted not in the document itself, but in the strengthening of state capacity with a strong monarch at its core. While constituting a check on the absolute power of the king, with equal if not more significance, Magna Carta served to facilitate state-building and enhance state capacity, too.
To most this is no surprise; after all, for centuries Magna Carta has been widely held aloft as a beacon of limited government and human rights. A forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms, and scientific progress, more clearly present in English School writing, putting its faith in the power of human reason to reshape society for the better, regardless of past history and tradition.
The most important contribution of the Magna Carta to the rule of law was that King John accepted that his authority was limited, not absolute, and that the limitation was open to negotiation. From this beginning, the rule of law gradually replaced unrestricted sovereign authority.
Unlike many other countries in the world – Britain and America are just two of the more prominent
It is an interesting intellectual adventure, an Odyssey in social causation to trace the evolution by which, as John Dickinson has put it: “The doctrine of the supremacy of law, which was evolved to check the usurpations of a king ruling by paramount title, has thus been turned into in instrument to control the action of popularly chosen officials and legislators by the supposedly fixed and absolute standards of an abstract law.”
The PRC never refers explicitly to Magna Carta political views in its official narrative, even though in 1949 Zhang Lan, the leader of the Democratic League and participant in the first People’s Political Consultative Conference, praised the then imminent Common Program as the “People’s Great Charter.” (The Dipolomat July 23, 2015).
The globalization was, as today, as much about culture as trade and finance. Now MagnaCarta text in China, the Chinese activists have urged President Xi Jinping to visit a rare exhibition of Magna Carta in Beijing, after the text, on display as part of commemorations of its 800th anniversary. Mark Gill, the head of the Magna Carta 800th anniversary committee, said he hoped to boost awareness and understanding of the text, which was issued in 1215 by King John of England and is held up as a symbol of government accountability and individual freedoms.
Magna Carta is something every person in Britain should be proud of. Its copies may be faded, but its principles shine as brightly.
The future prosperity and stability of Hong Kong:
Recent cracking down on lawyers in China is wrong and futile. Delivering this basic rights to life requires the authority to rethinking its legitimacy. Hong Kong’s leaders warn that the recent unrest will only result in Chinese businesses bypassing it even more. Judging by size, other have point: Hong Kong is clearly less important than in the past. Its GDP has shrunk from 16% of China’s in 1997, the year it was returned to Chinese control, to 3% 2014. That has led many inside China and abroad to conclude that Hong Kong is fading towards economic irrelevan to China (see The Economist Sep 30th, 2014).
Weaving together those the tendencies the past two decades China have seen the most favourable conditions that have ever occurred for the introduction of China’s manufactures into the most extensive markets in the world. That has brought China remarkable prosperity. With China’s development over the past decades, even if you include the recession in same parts, growth has spread around the country—no one city can dominate GDP when there are now nearly 200 cities with populations of more than 1m people and rapidly rising incomes. In the financial sphere Hong Kong has remained indispensable to China. And in several dimensions its position has actually been consolidated, not eroded, in recent years.
As two of the most important global financial centres, London and Hong Kong are pivotal to the world economy. 93 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP is attributed to the financial services sector. Hong Kong and the UK share the same commitment to making global trade easier and more transparent. Indeed, China has benefited greatly from Hong Kong’s unique status. Hong Kong has proved to be more reliable than the mainland as a source of equity financing. It is a city that is sealed off from the mainland but closely connected to it; a territory that is fully integrated into the global economy but ultimately controlled by the Communist Party in Beijing.
Even with its unique status, however, there is no question where the balance of power lies in Hong Kong’s relationship with China. It would be a grave mistake to conclude that Hong Kong does not matter to China. If China were to do anything that jeopardised their special relationship, Hong Kong would suffer most; but China would also pay a heavy price.
Diplomatic treaties and legal judgments have also proved to be rich resourse, revealing the prevailing understandings of the states system at any point of time. The UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, and Chief Executive CY Leung, during his first official visit to the UK since taking Office in 2012, talked about the importance of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the Sino – British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong. The Foreign Secretary stated that “the UK’s belief that universal suffrage is the best way to guarantee Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and to build confidence in the future of ‘One Country Two Systems’, principle agreed between the UK and the PRC,
under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which China committed that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy; be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power; and that Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system, lifestyle and rights and freedoms held in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years (until 2047) under Chinese rule.”
This arrangement is popularly referred to as ‘One Country Two Systems’ and the Joint Declaration signed by Prime Ministers Zhao Ziyang of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom on behalf of their respective governments on 19 December 1984 in Beijing provides that these basic policies should be stipulated in the Hong Kong Basic Law and that the socialist system and socialist policies shall not be practised in HKSAR. The Basic Law: is the constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which came into effect on 1 July 1997. Moreover, Hong Kong has its own constitutional representative in the National People’s Congress in People’s Republic of China.
In short, Hong Kong’s territory was acquired from three separate treaties: the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, and The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, which gave the UK the control of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon (area south of Boundary Street), and the New Territories (area north of Boundary Street and south of the Shenzhen River, and outlying islands), respectively.
In March 1983, the British Government finally recognised that China had sovereignty over Hong Kong all along. In a letter to Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, Prime Minister Thatcher stated that:
“… provided that an agreement can be reached between the two sides on administrative arrangements for Hong Kong to guarantee the future prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and is acceptable to the British Parliament and to the people of Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese Government, I would be prepared to recommend to the Parliament that sovereignty over the entire Hong Kong would be returned to China.”
The stalemate over the sovereignty issue between China and Britain thus ended, paving the way to the second stage of Sino-British negotiations. The second stage lasted from July 1983 to September 1984, when the Sino-British Joint Declaration was initialled. During this period, the two sides held 22 rounds of talks. The signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration marks the final resolution of the Hong Kong question, setting a laudable example and marking a significant milestone for the reunification of China.
Lord Carnwath, British Supreme Court Justice Lord Robert Carnwath, gives a lecture on the 1215 Magna Carta in Buenos Aires –