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Published: 00:01, July 23, 2021 | Updated: 10:15, July 23, 2021
The principle of 'one country, two systems' creates stronger Hong Kong
By Elsie Leung Oi-sie
Published:00:01, July 23, 2021 Updated:10:15, July 23, 2021 By Elsie Leung Oi-sie

The Communist Party of China is inseparable from the proposal and implementation of “one country, two systems”. Hong Kong’s smooth return to the motherland is an important part of the CPC’s outstanding centennial achievement, and an outcome of the political wisdom of multiple generations of Chinese leaders. The idea of “one country, two systems” was first conceived by the first-generation leaders, matured during the reign of the second-generation leaders, has been put into practice at the hands of the third, fourth and fifth generations, and constantly improved and enriched. From the recent Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Ordinance 2021, one can see not only CPC leadership, but also bear witness to the Party’s approach to the matters — the policy was first formulated by the CPC, then deliberated by the National People’s Congress, which turned policy into legislation, and finally implemented in Hong Kong, showcasing impressive progress in the rule of law. It is of critical importance to the steady, long-term progress of the practice of “one country, two systems” to take the opportunities of the CPC’s centennial and the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland to look back on the origin of “one country, two systems”, and correctly understand and evaluate the background and implications of its establishment as well as the CPC’s leadership role and progress in the process.

‘One country, two systems’ germinated in the time of first-generation leaders

The history of “one country, two systems” dates back to the 1950s. In order to achieve national reunification, the first generation of CPC leaders, with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai as the core, had already had the tentative idea of “one country, two systems”. In April and July of 1955, at the Bandung Conference and the second meeting of the First National People’s Congress, Zhou successively expounded the country’s position on Taiwan, emphasizing the Chinese people are entitled to liberate Taiwan by all means, not excluding peaceful means, and, if possible, the Chinese government is willing to consult with the local authorities in Taiwan on specific steps of the peaceful liberation of Taiwan, which would be consultation between the central government and local authorities.

Upon mentioning peace talks between the Kuomintang and the CPC in March 1956, Zhou said Chiang Kai-shek was in Taiwan and also “has guns in his hands”, which he could retain. What was important was to let Taiwan return to the motherland, and become an integral part of the motherland, which would be a good thing. Zhou also said in July the same year that the CPC and KMT had cooperated twice; why not a third time? In October, Mao mentioned if Taiwan could be peacefully reunified, “everything can be as it is”, and Taiwan may continue practicing the “Three People’s Principles”. Related authorities further proposed in 1957 that the two parties engage in negotiation on equal footing to realize peaceful reunification, and then Taiwan would become an autonomous region under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government, practice a high degree of autonomy, and the administration of the Taiwan region would continue to be under Chiang’s leadership. The idea that two systems may coexist in one country had already taken shape at that point.

I would summarize my expectations of the CPC’s leadership on “one country, two systems” as follows: “Never forget the original aspirations, forge ahead no matter twists and turns; be steadfast in concept, but flexible in strategies; learn from experience, win people’s hearts; work hard at daytime and evaluate by night, for this is our land, this is our people.”

The conception of “one country, two systems” was further clarified in October 1958, when Mao mentioned Chiang linking up with the Chinese mainland: He said that while the branches are linked, the roots will still be Chiang’s, so he would be able to go his own way, even to keep his own military. In 1963, Zhou summed up Mao’s thinking as “one headrope and four meshes”. The “one headrope” was that Taiwan must return to the motherland. The “four meshes” were: After Taiwan’s return to the motherland, except for diplomacy, which must be centralized in the central government, all military and political powers as well as personnel arrangements would be at Chiang’s discretion; any deficit in military, political and construction expenditures will be covered by allocations from the central government; social reform in Taiwan may wait until later, and be resolved via consultation; neither side should send personnel to the other to sabotage its internal solidarity. It won’t be impermissible for the generally socialist China to allow a part of it to stay at the stage of democratic revolution, according to Zhou.

Although the first-generation leaders didn’t phrase it as “one country, two systems”, the seeds Mao and Zhou sowed and the trail they blazed laid the groundwork for the Deng Xiaoping-led second-generation leaders to put forward expressly the theory of “one country, two systems”.

‘One country, two systems’ matured under the second-generation leadership

In a bid to accomplish peaceful reunification, the theoretical system of “one country, two systems” took shape in the early 1980s based on the concept of the first-generation leaders. Between November 1978 and December 1979, during his visit to the United States as well as at meetings with then-Myanmar President Ne Win, then-Hong Kong governor Crawford Murray MacLehose and then-Japanese Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi, Deng elaborated on his blueprint for resolving the Taiwan conundrum — Taiwan’s systems, ways of life and non-governmental relations with foreign countries would stay intact, on the sole condition that Taiwan must be an inseparable part of China. Despite the absence of the complete concept of “one country, two systems” in the leader’s remarks, the outline had become more clearly visible.

At the end of September 1981, Ye Jianying put forward the “Nine Guiding Principles on the Peaceful Reunification of Taiwan”, making the concept of “one country, two systems” even more specific and explicit. The “Nine Guiding Principles” can be generalized as: Taiwan may be a special administrative region after national reunification; all its economic and social systems as well as ways of life may remain unchanged; ownership over and right to inheritance of private property as well as foreign investments would remain inviolable. In January 1982, Deng explained that the “Nine Guiding Principles” is actually “one country, two systems”, two systems are permissible as long as the mainland’s system isn’t undermined. By then, the great proposition of “one country, two systems” had basically taken a complete shape.

In December 1982, the Fifth Meeting of the Fifth NPC approved and promulgated the amended Constitution, Article 31 of which stipulates that the State may establish special administrative regions when necessary. The systems to be instituted in special administrative regions shall be prescribed by law enacted by the National People’s Congress in the light of specific conditions. This not only embodied the idea of “one country, two systems”, but also provided direct constitutional grounds for establishing special administrative regions in certain areas that practice systems and policies different from those in the mainland.

As for Hong Kong, Deng was equally convinced of the applicability of the one-China, two-systems approach. The Chinese and British sides signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in December 1982 after multiple rounds of negotiations. As a political blueprint for resolving territorial and sovereignty issues left over from history, “one country, two systems” had by then become a basic national policy, which was first put into practice in Hong Kong, fulfilling Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.

Significance of implementing ‘one country, two systems’

In addition to resolving problems left over from history in ways that take into consideration the real-world conditions in Hong Kong, preserving national sovereignty and sustaining prosperity and stability in Hong Kong, the implementation of the political blueprint of “one country, two systems” with extraordinary courage and self-confidence of the leaders of CPC also has multiple layers of significance. First, “one country, two systems” fully reflects the importance the Chinese people have consistently attached to national unity since ancient times and the Confucian appreciation of harmony (he wei gui); second, “one country, two systems” attempts to resolve problems involving Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao and accomplish national reunification, has allowed a 40-years period of stability for the country to concentrate on domestic development, benefiting global peace and development at the same time; and finally, “one country, two systems” has not only resolved the return of Hong Kong and Macao to China, but also proved that capitalist and socialist economies aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and the two social regimes may still complement each other, which has also prompted other economies to engage in profound retrospection.

‘One country, two systems’ constantly improved, enriched under the third, fourth and fifth generations of CPC leadership

Despite its extraordinary achievements, “one country, two systems”, like all other institutional arrangements, has had no contemporary references thanks to its unprecedented nature. As a product of a specific time, new problems or challenges are inevitable in the process of its practice. Therefore, since its inception, the CPC and its leaders have had to preside over a continuous improvement and enrichment of the “one country, two systems” regime according to the needs of changing conditions so that it can advance with the times. As a historic innovation, “one country, two systems” is no doubt a brand new constitutional design for Hong Kong; it is also a new experiment on governance for the central government. In the early days of the implementation of the Basic Law, the central government displayed a very tolerant attitude toward some imperfections, let the SAR government correct them by itself, and tried to ensure the correct implementation of the Basic Law by interpretation of the Basic Law when needed. Since the national education incident of 2012, there have been “Occupy Central”, “Occupy Mong Kok”, and the anti-extradition-law amendment-bill movement that occurred in 2019. Seeing the new developments, the CPC needed to make a series of decisions to bring order out of chaos and safeguard “one country, two systems”, lest it gets twisted and deformed.

During the 2019 movement, anti-China disrupters became increasingly rampant, sabotaging social order, committing murder and arson, attacking public facilities, intruding into and damaging the Legislative Council building, turning universities campuses into battlefields, obstructing SAR government operations, and attempting to usurp power in mutually destructive manners; intervention by foreign forces also appeared increasingly conspicuous, secessionist activists sought to split Hong Kong from China, and Hong Kong faced unprecedented political blows.

In the face of severe challenges, the CPC central leadership came up with the “Decision on a Number of Issues Concerning Adhering to and Improving the System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Promoting the Modernization of the System and Capacity for National Governance” on Oct 30, 2019, less than five months after the riot took place in Hong Kong, at the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC National Congress. Part of the decision mentioned “one country, two systems”, announcing the CPC’s measures for: Comprehensively, accurately carrying out the guiding principle of “one country, two systems”, preserving the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the SAR as well as the SAR’s right to a high degree of autonomy, perfecting the institutions and mechanisms concerning implementation of the Constitution and Basic Law in the SAR, maintaining a governance structure of “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and “Macao people administering Macao” with patriots constituting the majority; improving the system for the central government to practice overall jurisdiction over the SAR in accordance with the Constitution and Basic Law, improving legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for the SAR to safeguard national security according to law, and supporting the SAR to reinforce enforcement forces; and resolutely preventing and containing interference in Hong Kong and Macao affairs by outside forces as well as activities of secession, subversion, infiltration and sabotage, and guaranteeing long-term orderliness and security in Hong Kong and Macao. I believe the CPC central leadership already commenced its crisis management process following “Occupy Central” and “Occupy Mong Kok” in 2014 and 2016.

The decision of the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC National Congress completed the comprehensive layout of institution-building for “one country, two systems”. First, when it comes to building and improving legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for Hong Kong to safeguard national security, the NPC on May 28, 2020, reviewed and passed a corresponding decision on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, and the NPC Standing Committee reviewed and passed the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on June 30 the same year as a national law directly applicable to Hong Kong. Society regained apparent calm after the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government and the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force were successively established.

Second, the postponed elections must be carried out, lest, once the pandemic situation comes under control and the social-gathering ban is lifted, anti-China disrupters and foreign forces have not abandoned their wild ambitions to overthrow the central and SAR governments and split the country, and take advantage of street protests to create social turmoil, occupy Central and Mong Kok, incite residents to oppose the SAR and central governments, stage a “mutual destruction (laam chau) II”, and take advantage of the chaos to usurp control over the SAR, the CPC central leadership decided: The principle of Hong Kong people with patriots as the majority administering Hong Kong must be institutionalized so as to guarantee Hong Kong’s executive, legislative and judicial powers wouldn’t fall into the hands of people who harm the interests of the central government and Hong Kong. According to the decision of the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC National Congress, the full session of the NPC on March 11, 2021, passed the “Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”, authorized the NPC Standing Committee to revise Appendixes I and II of the Basic Law; the latter on March 30 passed the newly revised Appendixes I and II of the Basic Law; the SAR government promulgated corresponding local legislation on May 27 to improve electoral system, implement patriots administering Hong Kong, and upgrade the SAR’s capacity and level of governance in accordance with the law.

While implementing “one country, two systems”, the CPC and its leaders have obviously also taken effective measures to continuously improve and enrich the SAR’s electoral system according to actual conditions — mending fences when the “one country, two systems” design showed defects, rectifying when it deviated from set course, making sure “one country, two systems” always proceeds on the right track, and Hong Kong gets out of “black violence” and “mutual destruction”, and making a significant shift from chaos to order.

CPC showed greater appreciation of rule of law

It is worth mentioning that while there has no doubt been visible CPC leadership in the process of promulgating the National Security Law for Hong Kong and improving the electoral system, the Party’s progress in respect of the rule of law has been equally impressive. Just as aforementioned, after riots broke out in Hong Kong, the CPC central leadership first formulated policies via its fourth plenary session of its 19th National Congress and made plans for improving “one country, two systems”, then based on the decision, the NPC and its Standing Committee respectively discussed and reviewed corresponding policies, turned the policies into legislation, and enforced the laws afterward. From policy formulation to review, legislation, and implementation, the entire process was carried out step by step, reflecting the CPC’s respect for the rule of law, showing that policies won’t change just because leaders or their personal wills change, because the power to amend laws lies with the NPC and its Standing Committee, which are the country’s supreme organs of power representing the will of the people.

In fact, Article 5 of the Constitution stipulates, “All state organs, the armed forces, all political parties and public organizations and all enterprises and institutions must abide by the Constitution and the law. All acts in violation of the Constitution or the law must be investigated.” The CPC has always attached great significance to governing the country in accordance with the law, and the rule of law progresses in the course of the Party’s and the State’s development.

Due to inadequate knowledge about the CPC, some Hong Kong residents indiscriminately suspect, blame, negate and despise everything the central government has done, and turn a blind eye to the achievements the Party has made.

Hopefully, through a look back at the origin and evolution of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong residents, besides better understanding the CPC’s relationship with “one country, two systems” as well as its leadership role, would also become aware of the CPC’s progress in the rule of law during its own process of development, put aside their misgivings and prejudices, cherish the hard-earned “one country, two systems” together, and embrace a better tomorrow for Hong Kong.

I would summarize my expectations of the CPC’s leadership on “one country, two systems” as follows: “Never forget the original aspirations, forge ahead no matter twists and turns; be steadfast in concept, but flexible in strategies; learn from experience, win people’s hearts; work hard at daytime and evaluate by night, for this is our land, this is our people.”

The author is a member of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee and a former secretary for justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The text was translated by Tan Hongkai. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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