Time for Hong Kong to face the reality of one country, one system

Peter Kammerer says there's little doubt by now that Hong Kong is under the thumb of the central government, two systems or not

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 1:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 2:01am

It's time to stop fooling ourselves: Hong Kong is living under one country, one system. The idea that, post 1997, there would be two systems and we would have a high degree of autonomy was to cushion the reality. Our freedoms would remain and things could only get better because there was also the promise of universal suffrage, many of us believed. There was a problem, though: no one bothered asking what "a high degree of autonomy" and "universal suffrage" actually meant.

Over the past few months, we've found out it means whatever Beijing says it means. The National People's Congress Standing Committee's white paper on Hong Kong has made plain that the central government rules our lives, with all branches of government - the executive, the administration and the legislature - ultimately answerable to it. Although the judiciary is supposed to be independent, the white paper contends that judges should be patriotic, a term that has not been properly defined. The Basic Law says Beijing is only responsible for foreign affairs and defence, but events of late say otherwise.

Liaison office officials are now vocal as well as visible at public functions. Police have shown a marked heavy-handedness towards pro-democracy protests, but were noticeably hands-off when supporters of the administration took to the streets two Sundays ago. This is not evidence that the "one country, two systems" model no longer applies, though. For me, three incidents last week are.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption's investigation of pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was a surprise, as much for who was involved as the unusual public-relations-friendly manner in which it was announced. Leaflets asking questions about civil disobedience and attempting to explain universal suffrage won't be delivered by the post office on the grounds that they infringe a ban on "illegal, obscene, immoral, indecent, offensive or libellous writing". On the orders of Beijing, Hong Kong will now celebrate two new memorial days that have nothing to do with our city and everything to do with the central government's anti-Japanese rhetoric: September 3 , to mark China's 1945 victory in the war with Japan, and December 13, the day chosen to mourn the victims of the Nanking massacre.

But if there are still any doubts, Zhang Rongshun, the vice-chairman of the Standing Committee's legislative affairs commission, made all clear last week. Reaffirming what other mainland officials have been saying, he told Xinhua that the central government had full jurisdiction over the city and that Beijing was entitled to supervise our city's autonomous power. If legislation was determined to be not in keeping with the Basic Law, the NPC Standing Committee could return it to the legislature. The Chinese constitution had the highest legal status and all citizens, Hongkongers included, had to abide by its provisions.

In a nutshell, that means we're under the Communist Party's thumb, two systems or not.

There are those among us who have a problem with that and others who do not. But whatever our feelings, it's time to face up to reality.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post