Can Hong Kong keep "One Country, Two Systems" autonomy?

Updated By on Jun 30, 2017, 03:23 pm
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Source: AP, Yonhap News


By AsiaToday reporter Jisu Kim

The "one country, two systems", which China promised Hong Kong, has 30 years left to run. China's interventions in Hong Kong's sovereignty has worsened and the growing opposition has boosted social conflicts in Hong Kong. Can Hong Kong keep the "one country, two systems" principle over the next 30 years?

Hong Kong will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its handover to China on July 1. In September 1982, Deng Xiaoping  proposed the principle of "one country, two systems" during a meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the issue of sovereignty over Hong Kong. He promised to guarantee the autonomy of Hong Kong's political system, legal, economic and financial affairs so that China won't force socialism to Hong Kong for the next 50 years and allow the idea of "gang ren zhi gang" - Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong. The proposal was accepted by the prime minister, and Hong Kong's handover to China was made.

The recent society of Hong Kong, entangled with various factors such as politics, economy, and age, has been divided into two large groups: the pan-democracy, and pro-establishment groups.

Those Hong Kongers, who had lived under the British rule and were relatively accustomed to free speech and non-governmental interventions, are dissatisfied with Beijing's ruling style, the Straits Times (ST) reported on Monday. In particular, the older generation who fled from mainland China to Hong Kong in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was established, is watching China's every political move with suspicion.

A growing number of young Hong Kongers are rejecting a "Chinese" identity, which is why Hong Kong is increasingly claiming autonomy. Hong Kong's younger generation, who grew up in free atmosphere receiving western-style education, lack a sense of "Chinese" identity, according to a recent survey. A research tem of Hong Kong University conducted a survey of Hong Kong youths aged 18 to 29, and found that only 3 percent of the respondents said they are "Chinese", the Financial Times (FT) reported. 65% of respondents replied that they are "Hong Kongers."

In addition, the working class, who are dissatisfied with rising costs of living and abnormally high housing prices, are showing strong opposition to the pro-Chinese Hong Kong government and establishment.

However, the people who oppose the rule of China are still few and the majority are keeping silent. There are many who do not care as long as they maintain a stable job and a peaceful life. The entrepreneurs and the establishment that have benefited from China's economic growth over the past two decades still support the pro-China government.

As Hong Kong's social conflicts become more severe, China is increasingly taking control of Hong Kong. Zhang Dejiang, who is the third-ranked leader of the ruling Communist Party, issued a strong warning last month about Hong Kong's alleged autonomy, according to The Diplomat. Zhang attended a symposium commemorating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's Basic Law implementation, which was held at the Great Hall of the People on May 27. He said, "The relationship between the central government and Hong Kong is that of delegation of power, not power-sharing.”

In April, Wang Zhenmin, the legal chief of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, stressed that 'one country' must come before 'two systems', saying, "The one country, two systems model is a great experiment. If the model fails, the country will only lose face, but Hong Kong will lose everything." Wang warned that China could abolish the model if Hong Kong continues to challenge national security. He also urged Hong Kong people to accept the fact the Hong Kong sovereignty was returned to China forever.

Then what will be the challenges for Hong Kong for the next 30 years under the one country, two systems principle? China is expected to become the world's largest economy over the next 10 to 20 years with an annual GDP growth rate of 6 to 7 percent. Riding on China's high growth, Hong Kong can also enjoy its fruit.

But there are two scenarios, according to Ker Sin Tze, former consul-general at the Singapore consulate in Hong Kong. First, it is possible that the Chinese government will become more confident with its high economic growth and will not tolerate social disorder caused by the pan-democracy group. Zhang Dejiang repeatedly urged the introduction of the National Security Law during his speech. The bill, based on Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, specifies the penalties for attacks against China, such as treason, secession, sedition or subversion. Since the end of 2002, there have been attempts for enactment but they put off enactment due to a large-scale democratization protest involving 500,000 Hong Kong citizens held on July 1, 2003.

On the other hand, if the economic benefits generated by a trickle-down effect of China's growth can be distributed more evenly to the public, the social disruption can be moderated and it could strengthen social cohesion. Hong Kong's Gini coefficient, which hit 0.537 in 2011, rose to 0.539 last year. That was the highest figure since the city kept records on income equality 46 years ago. The Gini coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds with perfect equality and 1 corresponds with perfect inequality. 0.5 or more means a situation in which social disorder such as riots can occur. He predicted that the one country, two systems could be preserved if the unequal distribution issue is resolved, and if there are good jobs, definite social security system, more affordable housing for public, and guarantee of the existing lifestyle.

But for now, the first scenario seems more likely to happen. For the second scenario to happen, efforts should be made to convince Hong Kongers that they are sharing their fate with China, persuade them to support the central government and improve the quality of people's lives to a satisfactory level. However, But it's hard to imagine that the political leaders of Hong Kong will achieve this within the next few years.

After all, the social turmoil in Hong Kong is likely to continue. The appointment of Law Chi Kwong, a founding member of the Democratic Party, as Secretary for Labour & Welfare, and Ronny Tong, a Civil Party legislator, as Executive Council member are hopeful factors to stitch up the political conflicts.

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