"Cross the river by feeling the stones.” These words of wisdom have been passed down for generations and inspired the Chinese nation in the early days of the reform and opening-up in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Since “one country, two systems” is unprecedented in human history, the only way to implement it successfully is by trial and error, at least in the beginning. That is why Deng Xiaoping described it as “crossing the river by feeling the stones.”
The Communist Party of China reached the conclusion, at the fourth plenary session of its 19th Central Committee in October last year, that “The ‘one country, two systems’ principle is an integral institutional arrangement adopted by the CPC in leading the people toward the peaceful reunification of the motherland, as well as a great innovation of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” That spoke highly of “one country, two systems” regarding its significance and historical role.
Both the central government and the SAR need to keep studying the exercise of “one country, two systems” inside out. By doing so, we will build our knowledge from the ground up and tackle each problem as it pops up along the way
As a matter of fact, “one country, two systems” can be interpreted from different perspectives. In terms of difficulty of implementation, the fourth plenary session of the 16th CPC Central Committee described it as a “brand new challenge” for the CPC in national governance. The 17th CPC Central Committee elevated it to a “major challenge” in 2008. In terms of guiding theory on governance, the 19th National Congress of the CPC listed maintaining “one country, two systems” as one of 14 fundamental strategies in governing state affairs; while the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee named it one of 13 outstanding advantages of China’s institutions and governance philosophy.
Those descriptions may be different, but there is a clear logic: It is unprecedented because it was a great innovation; it is a brand new challenge because it is unprecedented; it needs to be improved constantly because it is an important, fundamental strategy in national governance; and we have full confidence in it because it is an outstanding advantage that we ought to maintain as long as it is necessary.
China did not have prior experience in anything like “one country, two systems”, the implementation of which began only when China resumed the exercise of sovereign rule over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. In early 20th century, the CPC established its own Soviet-style government in such regions as Hunan province, Jiangxi province and northern Shaanxi province, complete with its own rule of law and currency. Although they earned the distinction of “clear sky” for corruption-free governance, they were “illegal” in the eyes of the Kuomintang regime, which spared no effort in wiping out the CPC — in sharp contrast to today’s Hong Kong, which enjoys a high degree of autonomy plus unmatched protection and support from the nation prescribed by the Basic Law. Around the world, no regions that has been granted a certain level of autonomy has in place institutions different from that of the rest of the country — as opposed to what the unique principle of “one country, two systems” has made possible.
At its 16th National Congress, the CPC gave credit to two turning points when its political role changed historically. One happened on Oct 1, 1949, when the PRC was born and the CPC turned from a political party fighting to seize state power to the governing party set to maintain state governance as long as necessary. The other one was witnessed when reform and opening-up officially started in 1978, as the CPC proceeded to replace its old style of state governance catering to a closed and planned national economy with a new style of governance suitable for the long-term development of a market-oriented economy. Come to think of it, it is fair to see Hong Kong’s return to the motherland as yet another turning point in the CPC’s progression as the governing party of China. That was when the CPC decided to maintain a capitalist, free economy in part of the country while continuing to pursue socialism with Chinese characteristics in the main body of the country. The latest turning point may not be as significant as the previous two, but qualifies as an unprecedented and brand-new test for the Party in its own right.
By the same token, “one country, two systems” is a bona fide challenge for Hong Kong compatriots as well. Deng Xiaoping once said “one country, two systems” is a new undertaking for all of us and no one is sure how it will fare down the road. Since none of us can actually see the future, both the central government and the SAR need to keep studying the exercise of “one country, two systems” inside out. By doing so, we will build our knowledge from the ground up and tackle each problem as it pops up along the way. Be it 50 years or longer, we have no choice but to take the challenges in stride, and push forward as we forge our path by “feeling the stones”.
HONG KONG NEWS