• Sat
  • Nov 1, 2014
  • Updated: 4:14pm
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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:19am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 6:00am

Beijing's 'take it or leave it' attitude on Hong Kong autonomy a far cry from 2003

Under Xi Jinping, the central government no longer cares what Hong Kong or the world thinks about 'one country, two systems'

To understand the significance of Beijing’s white paper on the “one country, two systems” principle, an episode in 2003 may help.

The then Hong Kong stock exchange was licking its wounds from the penny stock crisis, when a proposal to delist stocks trading below 50 HK cents led to a panic sale and public apology by a minister.

The government was eager to replace the bourse’s chief executive, Kwong Ki-chi, for mismanaging the incident.

Top government officials set their eyes on Gao Xiqing, a mainland-born, US-educated lawyer who had just left his job as a deputy director of the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

They saw Gao as an ideal candidate to push for further mainland business for the exchange given his Beijing connections and his brief stint as an investment banker in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is no longer the priceless China vase that one should not touch without gloves

That happened at a time when the then premier, Zhu Rongji, had hired several Hong Kong regulators to work for their mainland counterparts.

Our officials sounded out the idea to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. The answer was a flat no. The reason: it would reflect badly on the one country, two systems principle.

Believe it or not, Beijing did care back then about the perceptions of people in Hong Kong and the international community.

The significance of the publication of the white paper is that Beijing couldn’t care less now. It is not about the content, most of which had already been laid out by Zhang Xiaoming in his report to the 18th Communist Party Congress weeks before he arrived in town as the head of the Central Government Liaison Office in 2012.

The report, widely believed to have been masterminded by state leader Xi Jinping, said: “High autonomy is not full autonomy. Hong Kong and Macau do not inherit their autonomy. Its roots are in the authorisation of the central government.”

The significance is in the fact that the policies have now been spelt out in an unprecedented white paper issued by the State Council Information Office in six languages.

What used to be kept within closed-door meetings out of concerns for local sentiment is now shouted out officially.

Do state leaders know that the white paper will push more Hongkongers into fear, anger and even migration? Of course. 

However, unlike his predecessor, Xi has little emotional attachment to the “return” of Hong Kong from colonial hands. He sees little chance of regaining Taiwan with the one country, two systems principle and thus recognises the falling value of Hong Kong as a showcase.

He does recognise Hong Kong’s economic contribution to the country, although its significance has been declining dramatically.

At the same time, he sees increasing evidence of a plot in Hong Kong to unsettle the country amid the American “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region. The pushing and shoving in the South China Sea has only got him more convinced that Hong Kong is a political time bomb.

To Xi, Hong Kong is no longer the priceless China vase that one should not touch without gloves. His view is shared by many among China’s new generation of administrators. So, to Hong Kong people, they said: “Take it or leave it.”

Some may believe the straitjacket is only meant for the city’s political reform or, to be more specific, the Occupy Central movement.

Beijing is only angry about the political debate and will leave the rest alone for its own good, some have said wishfully.

Unfortunately, this is not how the country works.

The life of most mainland cadres is about doing whatever you can for personal gain until you get told off or arrested.

Time after time our officials have asked for help from Beijing to stop unreasonable requests from their mainland counterparts under the protection of the “one country, two systems” policy.

Now, there is a document from the top that basically says “autonomy at our mercy” and “take it or leave it”. 

What to expect from the many mainland cadres? What to expect from our officials?

Flashback back to the HKEx. From 2004 onwards, the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong began to invite senior exchange officials to join its spring reception.

In 2009, within days of the announcement of the appointment of mainland-born, US-educated lawyer Charles Li Xiaojia as its chief executive, the liaison office invited him over for a cup of tea.

What next?

shirley.yam@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

barlow.edward@gmail.com
This is an excellent article. Reminds me of the good old days of SCMP journalism!
hkis
China bullying at its best. In the end, I won't care. I'll leave this beautiful city behind when it turns into another mainland dump like the rest of that country. I just feel bad for the HK'ers who will be left behind. Is there anything worse than China? I can't think of it.
Paradox314
I understand your perspective / plan, but China is an issue that the world cannot ignore. You may go away from China, but China will not go away from you. (if you know what I mean?) What is playing itself out here will have fundamental consequences for everybody in the world for a long, long time to come.
ann.wei.121
Well said, well said, the couldn't care less attitude has been quite apparent in recent months. I absolutely believe "autonomy at 'my' mercy " is on XiJinPing's mind.
xeroid47@yahoo.com
An accurate analysis of the white paper. The question Hong Kong need to ask is that 50 years transition period was mean to merge the 2 systems, the Hong Kong toward China, not the other way around. We are more than 1/3 over the transition, yet to the so call democracy advocates they want to distance Hong Kong more away from China which is totally unacceptable. China may tolerate some local control on local issues, but certainly not the disdain shown toward Mainland tourists and not those self styled democracy leaders preaching against China as head of Hong Kong government.
Mr Juicy
A thought-provoking and insightful article.
If this analysis is right, then I would suggest that Hong Kong's strongest allies within the CPG are the HKMAO of the State Council, who would have drafted or commissioned the White Paper. Far from undermining One Country Two Systems, these officials will be trying to uphold and defend it - as can be seen from much of the moderate (JD / BL orientated) language of the White Paper. The new Chinese leadership is not part of that tradition (already 30 years vintage) although it has inherited the legacy, The HKMAO, on the other hand, are rooted in that tradition and will be resisting any dilution of the One Country Two Systems doctrine.
Yes, the honeymoon period of HKSAR / CPG relations is over, as the article amply demonstrates. Historians may debate the reasons for that. The emergence of the new generation of Chinese leaders will most likely only serve to accentuate that trend. Those who reject the White Paper should reject on the alternatives.
Mr Juicy
A thought-provoking and insightful article.
If this analysis is right, then I would suggest that Hong Kong's strongest allies within the CPG are the HKMAO of the State Council, who would have drafted or commissioned the White Paper. Far from undermining One Country Two Systems, these officials will be trying to uphold and defend it - as can be seen from much of the moderate (JD / BL orientated) language of the White Paper. The new Chinese leadership is not part of that tradition (already 30 years vintage) although it has inherited the legacy, The HKMAO, on the other hand, are rooted in that tradition and will be resisting any dilution of the One Country Two Systems doctrine.
Yes, the honeymoon period of HKSAR / CPG relations is over, as the article amply demonstrates. Historians may debate the reasons for that. The emergence of the new generation of Chinese leaders will most likely only serve to accentuate that trend. Those who reject the White Paper should reject on the alternatives.
Mr Juicy
Last line should read: "Those who reject the White Paper should reflect on the alternatives." Error regretted.
Formerly ******
Dear CCP:
Yes, you're also known as the Inspector Clouseau of international diplomacy. Will the CCP's latest act of aggression, arbitrariness, and arrogance towards HK have an impact upon the Taiwanese' opinions of China and the CCP and, more specifically, their opinions of Taiwan possibly re-uniting with China in a fashion similar to HK's? Did the CCP even consider this collateral issue?
親愛的中國共產黨:
是啊,你也被稱為國際外交的探長。中國共產黨的最新的侵略、 任意性和傲慢態度港元的行為會對臺灣的影響 ' 的中國和中國共產黨,更具體地說,他們可能重新團結起來與中國的方式類似于香港的臺灣的意見的意見嗎?沒有中國共產黨甚至考慮這個附帶的問題嗎?
321manu
Excellent piece. I'd go further than "take it or leave it". Basically, BJ has said "here's the score, deal with it". Sadly, HK has no choice but to bend over and take it.
Back in the early aughts, HK was still a bit of a shining example for China. Since she was unique economically within China, it was an easier sell politically to say she deserved a unique political relationship. However, HK is no longer a crown jewel. I can see mainlanders wondering, if HK is no longer so special, why she would continue to get special political treatment. On top of that, the push was on to further expand HK's political autonomy, which would only serve to heighten the discrepancy.
Now, knowing the CCP, their main focus is looking out for number one. Euphemisms like 'harmony' and their fetish for enforced harmony belie the fear that progress for one corner of China might ignite a call for progress in another...and progress is the last thing the CCP needs. It's no wonder, then, that they've decided to nip it in the bud. Now, they could have nipped it in any number of more subtle ways. So the interesting thing for me is not that they shut down political reform; it's that they chose to do it so loudly. I'm guessing they've decided to make HK the cautionary tale of this era, maybe even as a bloodless and slightly more evolved version of 6/4, to once again reaffirm just how closed-minded the CCP can be. On that front, mission accomplished.

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