Reflecting over the 25 years the “one country, two systems” framework has been in operation, it is truly regrettable that Hong Kong has failed to capitalize on this wonderful institutional innovation.
Since the handover, Hong Kong residents have enjoyed unprecedented political rights and freedoms. We must be the envy of every city on the Chinese mainland. We do not have to submit a cent of revenue to the central government. Hong Kong has always been able to get support from the central government whenever we get into trouble. Although the inability of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to enact national security legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law, the protests against the introduction of Moral and National Education, and more recently the “Occupy Central” campaign and the violent protests that started in June 2019 and ensuing vandalism and physical attacks on the police, citizens and mainland visitors must be very disappointing, Beijing has been patient and forbearing. Beijing waited until it was absolutely necessary to step in. Then it rapidly enacted the National Security Law for Hong Kong, to bring peace and order back to our city.
It always has been a puzzle to me how well-educated people like those in the Civic Party could fail to understand “one country, two systems”. Together with Benny Tai Yiu-ting, at the time an associate professor teaching law at the University of Hong Kong and obviously well-educated, they could be so foolish as to engage in the dishonorable task of trying to dismantle the very foundations of “one country, two systems”, which most people in Hong Kong have always supported.
In order for “one country, two systems” to work, all stakeholders must have full respect for law and order, full respect for the constitutional authority of Beijing to rule over Hong Kong, and full respect for the rights of Hong Kong people for peace and order. In order for “one country, two systems” to continue well beyond 2047, Hong Kong people need to learn about the political system on the mainland and to respect the fact that it is the historical choice of the Chinese people. Independent studies have confirmed again and again that mainland residents support their political system and perceive that they are living in a democracy. Who are we to presume that they are living under a “totalitarian regime”, as politicians in the West and their “free press” claim?
It is equally puzzling to me that students of today, who go to school after the handover, could have less sense of Chinese history and Chinese culture than their predecessors who went to school in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Hong Kong has gone through various education reforms, but apparently we are not really doing better against a host of key performance indicators. Students are mostly less well-prepared for university education when they get into a university. Their ability to think critically is no better. Their language skills are no better. And they are not more holistically educated than earlier cohorts. Those in my generation in primary school would have learned many Chinese poems, read many stories about famous people in Chinese history, and can tell the difference between right and wrong behavior. Today many students appear to be ambivalent between right and wrong. This reflects an absence of critical thinking.
I understand that critical thinking is a rarity anywhere. But I had thought that with the introduction of the Liberal Studies curriculum, students would develop critical thinking. I had thought that with the Liberal Studies curriculum, including Self and Personal Development, students would acquire a holistic view on life and be able to develop healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with other people. But then I learned that even senior teachers of Liberal Studies had failed abjectly in their private lives. So how can they teach effectively the core skills and values that we expect students to learn?
The other day, a friend raised the question about whether the new Civil Service College that was established in December 2021 would make a difference. My answer to him was that the school is like a physical body that must be given a soul in order to function. Just having the structure does not mean it will work. After all, it is the people who run it that matter. Just as those at the helm of the Liberal Studies curriculum could have delivered fantastic results but they did not do the job well, and the curriculum failed miserably, so the new Civil Service School can potentially do a great job. It really depends on who runs it. Do they have the heart and the skills to achieve the goals set for them? That is the question.
This is exactly why Beijing had instituted a nominating mechanism to vet candidates for the chief executive post. Those who adore totally free elections without stringent and well-thought-out criteria to screen out unfit candidates need only look at Donald Trump in the United States. The Communist Party of China would never have allowed a person with the character of Donald Trump to take up any leadership position in the government on the mainland. Similarly, in the interest of Hong Kong people, Beijing will make sure that inept and unethical people, no matter how politically astute they may be, will not stand a chance of becoming the chief executive of the HKSAR.
The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS