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Thursday, January 10, 2019, 10:53
‘One country, two systems’ a peaceful way to national unification
By Paul Yeung
Thursday, January 10, 2019, 10:53 By Paul Yeung

Paul Yeung explains why this principle offers a workable solution to the Taiwan question based on its successful application in HK

The “one country, two systems” policy once again attracted widespread public attention after President Xi Jinping mentioned the principle as a peaceful way to achieve national unification in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of a call from Beijing to end military confrontation across the Taiwan Straits.

In his words, the differences in political systems between the two sides of the Straits should not be obstacles to national unification and could be resolved through “one country, two systems”. However, the significance and achievements of the principle have always been overlooked or misunderstood by many people. When we look back to the past, we can find that the principle has been crucial to the success of Hong Kong as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China in at least three ways.

Firstly, it ensured the peaceful transition of Hong Kong. “One country, two systems”, a unique institutional arrangement initiated by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, was originally designed to deal with the thorny question of Taiwan. But it was first applied in 1997 to settle the Hong Kong issue left over from history. It did achieve the goal of securing Hong Kong’s peaceful handover and smooth transition. Considering the unstable social atmosphere in the 1980s and the massive migration wave in the 1990s, we can say with confidence that the post-handover Hong Kong has achieved peaceful transitions.

To complete the mission of national rejuvenation, “one country, two systems” ... will continue to serve well as the best means

Secondly, the political framework has ensured the stable development of the Hong Kong SAR, both economically and socially. Stability was the next target for the newly established SAR, which Hong Kong has basically achieved. Numbers speak for themselves. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the city’s gross domestic product grew at an annual average rate of 4.3 percent over the period between 1997 and 2017 in real terms. Social stability and economic growth could not have been achieved without the “one country, two systems” principle. The central government, under “one country”, has always given Hong Kong strong backing. Favorable policies and development platforms, such as CEPA (Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement), stock connects and plans of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, have been provided to Hong Kong whenever it is in need.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the unique political arrangement has acted as the engine for institutional innovation to promote the synergy of different systems under “one country”. There are two remarkable cases in point. The first one is the successful establishment of free trade zones on the mainland, including Nansha, Hengqin and Qianhai, which are built as high-powered gateways to open up the mainland to the rest of the world. The second one is the Bay Area. The “one country, two systems” principle is itself an innovation that affords the Bay Area unique advantages. Hong Kong could be a model of innovative institutional design for the Bay Area to emulate in order to facilitate the flow of people, goods, capital and information across the city cluster and to attract talented professionals to the region. Thanks to the “one country” element, the authorities in Guangdong province are more than willing to enhance cooperation with Hong Kong and have paid great attention to removing obstacles to the collaboration between the two systems across the boundary. For instance, the Lok Ma Chau Loop Innovation and Technology Park is a product of such an innovation. 

The synergy achieved through closer collaboration between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland means “two” can be greater than “one plus one”. Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, more and more synergy can be achieved on different fronts. The innovative engine is still running fast. If we agree that the nation’s reform and opening-up process is closely related to the application of “one country, two systems”, we can expect that the deepening of the reform and opening-up will also closely work with the full implementation of “one country, two systems”. 

This political arrangement is the most beneficial and practical arrangement for the people of Hong Kong. How about Taiwan? Since 1949, the central government and the Chinese people have unwaveringly seen tackling the Taiwan question to realize complete national reunification as a historic task. Forty years ago, Beijing called for an end to military confrontation across the Straits in a public letter known as the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan”. Achieving national rejuvenation and cross-Straits reunification is the trend of history and the tide of time, which can never be blocked by anyone or any force. 

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad once said: “My measure of success is whether I’m fulfilling my mission.” To complete the mission of national rejuvenation, “one country, two systems”, which not only safeguards a peaceful transition but also promotes institutional innovation for future development, will continue to serve well as the best means.

The author is research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

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