Published: 00:58, February 24, 2021 | Updated: 00:47, June 5, 2023
PDF View
Original intention key to 'one country, two systems'
By Paul Yeung

The recent public debate over Hong Kong’s political system reflected popular concerns about the exercise of “one country, two systems” and governance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. However, some of the opinions expressed in the debate were too confrontational to take lightly. I believe it would be easier to achieve consensus if we focused on analyzing the fundamentals of the matter than arguing over superficial differences.

To better understand the “one country, two systems” principle, we must trace it back to the bilateral talks between the government of China and of the United Kingdom over the question of Hong Kong that began in 1982. Since then, the heart of the matter has always been China’s sovereign rule over Hong Kong, which is forever China’s beyond any reasonable doubt. It is not just the central government’s decision but the whole Chinese nation’s as well. That is why China states in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that resuming the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong is the common desire of all Chinese people. It is thus set in stone that Hong Kong belongs to China, the sovereign state, with no room for discussion, compromise or concession. Meanwhile, in respect to the fundamental differences between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, the sovereign state has adopted the system design known as “one country, two systems” for the HKSAR. It is safe to say “sovereignty” is the original reason why “one country, two systems” came about in the first place. And this is the basic understanding that makes any positive discussion of matters concerning political system designs for the HKSAR under the “one country, two systems” principle possible.

Sovereignty is not an abstract concept. In practice, it is maintained through jurisdiction. Sovereignty and jurisdiction are inseparable. Article 12 of the Basic Law of the HKSAR stipulates that the HKSAR is under direct jurisdiction of the Central People’s Government, meaning the central government maintains overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR, whose powers are authorized by the central government. According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong exercises “a high degree of autonomy” under the “one country, two systems” principle, including independent finance (without tax obligations to the State).

As long as we remember the original intention of “one country, two systems”, which is to maintain unification, and recognize that Hong Kong’s sovereignty belongs to China, we should have no problem fully understanding crucial political concepts

As for matters concerning Hong Kong’s political and electoral development, which has long been a hot topic among many people here, we must look at it from the sovereignty perspective to reach correct understanding. Hong Kong’s democracy is purely local and by no means “sovereign”. That is why discussion about democracy in Hong Kong should be within the context of local government instead of national politics and compared only with similar regional administrative regions of other countries when necessary. For instance, some local governments (such as mayors in the UK) are democratically elected rather than appointed by the sovereign state but do not have the “high degree of autonomy” the HKSAR enjoys, and the mayors do not have the same amount of powers the chief executive of the HKSAR does. In other words, Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the powers of the chief executive cannot be obtained through Western-style democracy and the central government has the right and power to determine how the electoral process works in Hong Kong. The political system and electoral process in the HKSAR must ensure its jurisdiction is never separated from sovereignty.

Furthermore, the exercise of “overall jurisdiction” is also an important part of sovereign rule, hence the emphasis on “patriots governing Hong Kong” from the initial conception of the “one country, two systems” principle. Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, elaborated on the definition and criteria of “patriots governing Hong Kong” at a Monday forum of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, stating that those who oppose the central government and seek to harm the interest of Hong Kong society are the enemies of patriots and must not be allowed in the HKSAR governance establishment. He also spelled out some heavy requirements for principal officials of the HKSAR government to ensure the lasting effectiveness of “one country, two systems” under the “patriots governing Hong Kong” principle with executive-led administration.

As long as we remember the original intention of “one country, two systems”, which is to maintain unification, and recognize that Hong Kong’s sovereignty belongs to China, we should have no problem fully understanding such crucial political concepts as “overall jurisdiction”, “safeguarding national security in the HKSAR” and “patriots governing Hong Kong”. Such understanding is indispensable to preventing confusion, misconception and dispute over related matters.

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

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.