- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Hong Kong tested its authority under the "one country, two systems" rule of China when it allowed deported professor Li Shaomin to return with his family Monday. Mr. Li, an American citizen, had not been in Hong Kong since February, when he had left his family and apartment for the evening to have dinner with a friend, and was arrested by police just over the Chinese border in Shenzhen. He was convicted of spying for Taiwan, ordered expelled from China and arrived in the United States last week. After meeting Friday with the State Department, which had worked hard to obtain his release while he was kept in a Beijing jail, he returned to Hong Kong, where he has worked since 1996 as a professor of marketing. The Hong Kong immigration office's decision to allow him to re-enter is a victory for Hong Kong's ability to exert its autonomy, but leaves many questions about the dubious legal process of the two-system country unanswered.
Prior to Mr. Li's arrival, law experts grappled with how to interpret such a deportation rule. Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but is sovereign in many aspects of its domestic affairs while Beijing still controls its foreign affairs. Mr. Li's case was a merging of both. His colleagues at the City University of Hong Kong argued that China and Hong Kong had separate but equal laws, so that one could not trump the other. A sentence of guilty, in the Li case, was not transferable from mainland China to Hong Kong, they argued. A Chinese law research fellow disagreed, telling the daily South China Morning Post that a sentence handed down by China should be honored by Hong Kong because it was the "sovereign territory" that expelled him.
Hong Kong immigration authorities aptly dispelled the latter argument by allowing Mr. Li to return. But it is not any clearer than it was before whose authority will have the heaviest weight in cases of dispute in the future. Nor is it clear whether Beijing will honor a position taken by Hong Kong when it is different than Beijing's.
The State Department did not have any answers on how to legally interpret such cases, and deferred to Hong Kong immigration authorities. "The Hong Kong authorities had to decide what they would do in this case and they did," a State Department official said. "We would regard this decision as reflecting the fact that Hong Kong was promised this high degree of autonomy."
But what happens in less publicized cases, when U.S. consuls are not there to meet deported citizens at the airport, as they were for Mr. Li and his family? What happens in other cases of dispute, whether they be in commerce, law or human rights, when Hong Kong and China differ? The international community should not consider China's sovereignty checked because one deported prisoner was allowed to return.
In fact, China had no problem exerting its authority over Secretary of State Colin Powell during his recent visit. A state-run television network cut some of Mr. Powell's comments on human rights from a 24-minute interview, despite the fact that the Chinese had said in advance that his comments would be broadcast in their entirety. If this is the way China treats a senior U.S. official, the Beijing government's conformity to international standards in the treatment of Chinese and American citizens within its borders is by no means guaranteed.
Mr. Li was a test case for the extent of Hong Kong's autonomy. Hong Kong and the international community won this time.

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