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  • Dec 24, 2014
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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 10:23am

Hong Kong must find its place in a family of 1.3 billion

Regina Ip says the only way the city can live up to its historic mission of reconciling 'one country' with 'two systems' is to consider how its unique traits may both benefit itself and serve the nation

Shortly after the 18th Communist Party congress, Beijing officials responsible for Hong Kong and Macau lost no time to reiterate the central authorities' policies on the two special administrative regions. Of the pronouncements made, a 6,000-word article by Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, deserves special attention.

The article represents the latest attempt by the central authorities to deal with the problems arising from the implementation of "one country, two systems", a bold concept designed to resolve the conflicts inherent in accommodating two radically different systems within one country. A key message from Zhang is that in the process of implementing this unprecedented arrangement, Hong Kong or Macau must deal with "three sets of relationships". They are, in effect, the three key contradictions that have dogged the Hong Kong SAR since its creation 15 years ago.

The first deals with the relationship between "one country" and "two systems". Since 1997, pundits have debated which comes first. The central authorities acknowledge that Hong Kong's separate systems - like the tea stains on the fabled zisha (purple clay) teapot from the city of Yixing, Jiangsu - are the city's hallmark. But while they agree that these characteristics should be treasured rather than erased, they stress that "decision by referendum" or "self-rule by Hong Kong as a city-state" does not sit well with the "one country" principle.

The mainland needs to respect and tolerate the consequences of Hong Kong's free-market, capitalist system, and it stands to benefit from some of the city's advanced management systems and experience. Conversely, Hong Kong should also respect the socialist system practised on the mainland, especially its administrative and judicial systems. Hong Kong's challenge lies in successfully implementing the "great divergence" of Hong Kong within the "great commonality" of the Chinese nation.

This relationship obliges Hong Kong to safeguard the "sovereignty, security and developmental interests" of the nation, including implementing Article 23, the national security provisions of the Basic Law, "at an appropriate time". There is no strident call to rush into legislation, but a solemn reminder that Hong Kong has yet to fulfil its constitutional obligation.

The second relationship, which follows on from the first, concerns upholding the central government's authority while maintaining Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy. Zhang found it necessary to elaborate that the central government's authority goes beyond its widely publicised responsibilities for foreign affairs and defence, but also covers a wide range of administrative powers, including the pivotal powers of appointment of the chief executive and principal officials, and reviewing and remitting legislation enacted by Hong Kong's legislature.

Objections to the interpretations of the Basic Law by the National People's Congress Standing Committee - on the grounds that they undermined Hong Kong's judicial independence - were cited as assaults on the NPC's authority, in defiance of express provisions of the Basic Law. Hong Kong was reminded that a high degree of autonomy is not complete autonomy, and that its autonomy stems from authorisation by the central authorities, not from innate powers of its own.

Finally, less readily picked up by Hong Kong's chattering classes but no less important is the third relationship, which falls within the economic sphere. Building on the strong advantages afforded by mainland China's vast hinterland, Hong Kong needs to enhance its competitiveness and integrate it with the mainland's advantages. After listing a string of policy measures tailor-made to boost Hong Kong's economy, Zhang acknowledged that the continuous opening up of the mainland and development of adjacent regions have dented some of the competitive advantages of Hong Kong and Macau.

The key to the two SARs' ability to thrive lies in adopting pragmatic and effective measures to raise their own competitiveness. This entails enhancing established advantages, while creating new, bright spots of growth that mesh well with global trends in economic development and restructuring.

Hong Kong is reminded that, as the housing problem and the widening wealth gap become more acute, it must continue to grow and develop to secure the wherewithal to resolve these problems. The Hong Kong community is asked to show more tolerance, more care for the underprivileged, more consideration of the national interest, and more willingness to consult and compromise in order to build a more harmonious society.

In sum, as a member of the family of over 1.3 billion Chinese, Hong Kong needs to embrace diversity in unity, and divergence in harmony.

Zhang articulates a vision of Hong Kong which, if successfully realised, could spell peace and prosperity across the straits for generations to come. The "Second Coming" of the Basic Law, 15 years after its birth, carries high hopes and vast challenges for a city still treading an uncertain path as it struggles with its historic mission.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party


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Hong Kong will probably merge with Shenzhen.
The combination of HK's 7 million and Shenzhen's 13 million will make a very very powerful city - one that can challenge Shanghai's 20 million for economic preeminence on Chinese mainland. Hong Kong will probably merge with Shenzhen.
More and more Hong Kong people will move to Shenzhen and commute to work because of the high cost of living and property prices in Hong Kong, so it is very very natural for both cities to integrate and eventually merge.
HK-Shenzhen metropolis would be among the top 3 cities on earth, equal to New York, London, and Tokyo.
We have 35 years remaining to showcase Hong Kong's values as a civil society where law is upheld, dissent tolerated and right of the individual respected. We should strive more toward a
civil and harmonious society, instead of succumbing to pressure to become more like them. Let HK be the shining beam in the midst of darkness, setting itself as an example, rather than becoming part of the "muddy water". There is always hope that the northern wind will turn warmer - rather than colder.
Yet, HK must balance that with economic and political integration with Shenzhen.
Just based on market forces alone, HK people will purchase homes in Shenzhen and commute to work in HK because the excessively high property prices in HK. So it will be very natural for HK-Shenzhen people to intermix and eventually become one.
HK-Shenzhen will probably be elevated into a municpality equal to Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chonqing, so it can still be a free/open place, but HK needs to acquire more land (Shenzhen) and integrate with China (Shenzhen) in order to be relevant against larger mainland cities like Shanghai or even Guangzhou.
@ “The mainland needs to respect and tolerate the consequences of Hong Kong's free-market, capitalist system, and it stands to benefit from some of the city's advanced management systems”
“freemarket” ? , “advanced management systems”? .................................. I think there could be a whole long debate about these!
Hong Kong’s “freemarket” is a facade. For example why is it that several international supermarket and hypermarket chains can compete and open branches all over the mainland and yet we in Hong Kong are stuck with a conniving duopoly controlled by two major property landlords?
And as for “advanced management systems” whatever do you mean? A credit card transaction between a merchant and bank card centre takes an average of over one minute (during busy periods several minutes) whereas in Europe this in virtually instantaneous. And is exploiting low paid workers forcing them to perform 12-hour shifts six days a week an “advanced management system”?
As a fully fledged member of the “chattering classes” I do like and agree with your identification of and analysis of a no less important third relationship with the mainland, which is the need to integrate more with the mainland’s advantages, of which there are many. Unfortunately the “democrats” here are blind to these and like religious extremists, who still believe the world is flat, will never admit that the mainland has some attributes which are streaks ahead of Hong Kong’s.


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