What is the best part of “one country, two systems”? Some say it tackled a thorny historic issue with a peaceful solution. Some think it created an unprecedented formula for countries to resolve disputes over sovereignty. Many would argue that it keeps Hong Kong’s uniqueness.
But above all, I believe the biggest strength lies in its energy that pushes forward the development of both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.
The story started in the 1970s. When China launched the “reform and opening-up” process, the world was not impressed. Overseas investors were mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude, lacking confidence in the mainland’s investment environment. At the time the mainland’s investment climate was still far from favorable, with an unclear prospect and an incomplete policy book.
It was the Hong Kong business community that first set foot on the mainland and supported the early takeoff of the mainland economy.
In 1978, Hong Kong businessman Cheung Tze-nei set up the mainland’s first processing factory in Dongguan, Guangdong province. In 1980, renowned businesswoman Annie Wu Suk-ching set up China’s first joint venture company, Beijing Air Catering, offering classy aviation catering services to visitors from all around the world. In 1983, famous business leader Henry Fok Ying-tung built the mainland’s first five-star hotel, the White Swan Hotel, in Guangzhou. Amid uncertainty, they made those investment decisions out of pure love for the country.
Later, more people from Hong Kong headed north, bringing capital, technology and professional knowledge into the mainland, contributing to one of the greatest economic miracles in the world of all time. The northbound investment trend became more robust after Hong Kong returned to China.
As of 2018, the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up policy, the Hong Kong business sector had invested an accumulated US$1 trillion on the Chinese mainland, which equals 53.1 percent of the total overseas direct investment in China, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce.
During that time, the mainland’s development offered numerous opportunities to Hong Kong people. Many invested their savings into this adventure, and accumulated their wealth and gained a sense of achievement during the process. The mainland gave them a chance of a lifetime to create their own businesses and nurtured Hong Kong’s entrepreneurship, and in return, they helped the motherland create jobs for their mainland compatriots and contributed to the great development drive. That’s the perfect demonstration of a win-win relationship.
The mutual benefits expanded as the mainland further developed its economy. The example of the Hong Kong business community strongly boosted global investors’ confidence in investing on the mainland, which has eventually become a preferred investment destination in the world. China’s GDP stood at US$962 billion in 1997 and rose all the way to US$17.7 trillion in 2021, becoming the world’s second-largest economy and pushing up per capita disposable income at a rapid speed, which in return injected fresh momentum to the further growth of Hong Kong’s economy.
The services sectors account for over 93 percent of overall GDP and 89 percent of employment in Hong Kong, which, around the 1997 handover, was in desperate need of a bigger market and client base to expand further. And a growing Chinese mainland was the perfect answer. The positive interaction started off after 2003, when the mainland rolled out the Individual Visit Scheme to allow individual visitors to Hong Kong, boosting various industries, including tourism, retail, catering and hotel. Later with the gradual expansion of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA, a free trade agreement between Hong Kong and the mainland, more industries benefited as it opened up huge markets for Hong Kong goods and services.
Hong Kong helped plant the seeds for the mainland’s economic development, and a stronger mainland in return provided the best support for the city. In a word, this is the perfect demonstration of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s famous quote: “When Hong Kong prospers, the nation will do good. When the nation is doing good, Hong Kong will do better.”
As China became the world’s growth engine, Hong Kong continued to be the nation’s connector to the rest of the world. “One country, two systems” also benefits the international community. That’s why whenever critics attack “one country, two systems”, I would always explain to them the principle is not Beijing’s tactics to secure control over Hong Kong, but is really a policy that brings the most benefits, for Hong Kong, the mainland and the entire world.
Now we are heading to a new chapter and even closer partnership between the two sides. With the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area blueprint and Hong Kong’s Northern Metropolis development strategy in place, the city is going to benefit more from integrating into the nation’s development and, at the same time, make more contributions, under “one country, two systems”.
As in the 1980s, the development drive will provide numerous opportunities for the city’s residents, especially the youth, to achieve their career aspirations. China is leading the global competition in many of the new high-technology industries, which will also spur the expansion of many other related industries. I do hope Hong Kong’s young people can seize their chance of a lifetime, as their fathers or grandfathers did, to make their own achievements and also make contributions to the nation.
I know many young friends now still hesitate to step forward and still feel uncertain about participating in the nation’s overall development. History is the best guide to the future. We have full confidence in “one country, two systems”, which has proved, and will continue to prove, its power to push both Hong Kong and the mainland forward.
The author is a member of the Guangdong Province Zhongshan City Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and executive vice-chairman of the Hong Kong CPPCC Youth Association.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS