'One country, two systems' alive and well

Alice Wu says despite the knocks along the way, faith in 'one country, two systems' holds strong - the people's march today is proof of it

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 8:11am

It has been 16 years since "one country, two systems" was implemented. Our sentiment towards this arrangement - which has made Hong Kong's very existence possible - has had its ups and downs. Even so, we now seem to be suffering from "collective depression", according to the latest finding by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme.

The poll found that for the first time since 1997, fewer people had confidence in "one country, two systems" than those who had no confidence. Robert Chung Ting-yiu, the programme's director, said the figures were "worrying". The last time his poll turned out worse results was in August 1996.

So Chung may be right to worry - we're not feeling too hot about our own government and Beijing, and the fact that we have to live with both.

Some would look at the July 1 marchers today and see them as indicative of these sentiments. But it would not be wrong to say that they are also indicative of how "one country, two systems" is very much alive and kicking, because, frankly, without it, there wouldn't be this tradition of the march.

Deng Xiaoping probably couldn't imagine handover anniversaries becoming an annual day for people to march and vent their grievances when he set forth the principle. Without it, few could imagine seeing a march down any of our streets. And it seems only fair that however little confidence we have in "one country, two systems", we recognise that our very expressions of dissatisfaction attest to the spirit of this principle at work.

Deng probably also didn't imagine that maternity ward spaces, milk powder and residential property could be bones of contention between the mainland and the special administrative region, but they have been. It is testament to the strength of the system that the local government could implement measures to deal with these issues. In this sense, faith in the principle holds strong, whatever the confidence level of the day.

In the university's survey of the strength of Hongkongers' sense of Chinese identity, we find that the figure has sunk to a 14-year low. Yet, it would be incorrect to see the result as a threat to "one country". Chinese people in general, not just those from Hong Kong, have strong associations and identification with their places and regions of origin. Hongkongers' "Chinese identity crisis" shouldn't be singled out.

Besides, making distinctions such as this is an integral part of "one country, two systems".

This system has been in place for almost a third of the 50 years for which we have been promised "no change" to our way of life. There have been rough spots along the way, and we are certainly in the middle of one right now.

Though conflicts are inherent under the principle, they have little to do with our identity issues. Currently, it has everything to do with the angst Hongkongers feel about their promised high degree of autonomy and their pessimism over the democratisation of Hong Kong's political system.

This is something the country's leaders will need to come to terms with.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA