Published: 02:15, April 28, 2020 | Updated: 03:33, June 6, 2023
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Don't lose confidence in 'one country, two systems'
By Xiao Ping

Editor’s note: The following is the 16th and last article of a series focusing on the “one country, two systems” principle.

Hong Kong has generally maintained steady development since China resumed the exercise of sovereignty peacefully over the city, more than enough to prove “one country, two systems” is the best solution to the question of Hong Kong left over from history and the best institutional arrangement for the special administrative region to sustain long-term prosperity and stability. Anyone whose heart is in the right place should agree “one country, two systems” is the fruit of brilliant political wisdom and is unmatched in serving its purpose. 

“One country, two systems” is an unprecedented, groundbreaking arrangement that must be evaluated in the context of history and the overall situation. Social systems provide the basic structure for a society to operate, but how effective a system is depends on governance. The root of many problems facing Hong Kong can be traced back to constraints on the executive-led governance, which in turn have undermined the SAR’s social management. Also, it is necessary to distinguish the deep-seated problems of Hong Kong society from “one country, two systems”. For example, nagging issues such as the short supply of residential housing and the growing wealth gap had long existed before “one country, two systems” came into existence and can only be blamed on the capitalist system alone. The undeniable fact is that Hong Kong was able to prevail over such adversity as the Asia financial storm of 1997 and the SARS epidemic of 2003 thanks mainly to strong support by the central government and mainland compatriots in accordance with the “one country, two systems” principle. That is why Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center, trade hub and shipping center has remained intact for the past 23 years. 

“One country, two systems” is an unprecedented, ground-breaking arrangement that must be evaluated in the context of history and the overall situation

In hindsight, had the SAR government been able to proceed with the previous plan to build 85,000 housing units every year, would the public housing applicants still have to wait for so many years as they do now? Had the SAR government been able to focus more on developing the economy and improving people’s livelihoods, instead of having to spend so much energy and public resources on overcoming political obstructions, Hong Kong’s socioeconomic development would have been much faster than it actually was over the years. Does anyone believe Hong Kong would still be suffering so much “pain” without all the political infighting and social unrest at the hands of the opposition camp on behalf of hostile foreign governments and facilitated by the politico-judicial traps laid by the British rulers before they left? 

Mainstream popular wishes before July 1, 1997, were to maintain the existing capitalist system with more democratic incentives added to the mix going forward. The central government authorities were well aware of and understood the public sentiment back then and assured Hong Kong society that its capitalist system and way of life will be unchanged for 50 years by enshrining the promise in the Basic Law of the HKSAR, which also stipulates Hong Kong’s electoral reform shall proceed steadily and orderly toward the ultimate goal of universal suffrage in both the chief executive and Legislative Council elections. Had the SAR been able to proceed according to the Basic Law all the time, it would have achieved the goals in time, but the progress was repeatedly interrupted by illegal movements with unconstitutional demands in violation of the Basic Law, plunging local society into endless political dispute and economic hardship. More recently, even separatist advocacy got more rampant, with serious damage to public interests in addition to posing a real threat to national security as well as sovereignty. Such disruptive and costly attempts run against the “one country, two systems” principle and will only push Hong Kong further away from realizing its aspirations. 

We can handle the present situation better by drawing lessons from past experiences. Hong Kong cannot solve its problems by going astray from “one country, two systems” or merely by achieving universal suffrage, but by blocking foreign interference and improving governance according to law on the part of the SAR as well as the central government, so as to resolve the deep-seated problems and bring the advantages of “one country, two systems” as an institutional arrangement into full play. 

Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had total confidence in “one country, two systems” back in the day and so do we today. The confidence comes from knowing that the “one country, two systems” principle serves the overall interest of Hong Kong as well as of the nation in the long run and its inclusiveness; from the mind-blowing development of the country toward the “dual centennial goals”; from the assurance from the central government authorities that the “one country, two systems” principle will never change or waver and that its exercise will never lose the preset bearing or manner of progress; and from the fact that the central government and people of Hong Kong have the wisdom to solve under the guidance of the Basic Law any problem that arises every now and then. “One country, two systems” is Hong Kong’s greatest advantage. As long as Hong Kong remains firmly with the motherland while taking full advantage of its free-trade-oriented economy and integrating its own development into the overall development strategy of the nation, and as long as Hong Kong stays on the right track in the face of distractions and disruptions caused by foreign interference (in President Xi Jinping’s words), it will no doubt continue making progress in implementing “one country, two systems” along the way. 

As I pointed out in the first article of this series: Remain true to our original aspiration and one will achieve the ultimate goal in due course.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.