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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 8:50pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

The true nature of Hong Kong autonomy

Regina Ip says we can't deny the political and historical realities that, no matter how stoutly we defend our separate identity and culture, we are still a part of the family that is China

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 4:55am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 4:55am

Every year, during the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, journalists from all over the world congregate in the Chinese capital, combing the texts of statements made by the Chinese leaders for clues to new policy directions or revisions of established policies.

This year, the leaders did not disappoint. At a meeting with Hong Kong and Macau members of the CPPCC on March 5, Zhang Dejiang, the chairman of the NPC Standing Committee and the highest-ranking official responsible for Hong Kong affairs, stressed that the "high degree of autonomy" enjoyed by the two special administrative regions was not "complete autonomy". It was authorised by the central authorities in accordance with the law, Zhang explained. The central authorities possessed complete sovereignty over Hong Kong, including the power to supervise the exercise of the "high degree of autonomy" by the two SARs, he added.

Zhang's explanations did not come as a surprise to the clear-headed, as "a high degree of autonomy" is, by definition, a qualified form of autonomy. Principal officials who have worked closely with the central authorities understood this from day one. But, for those who have been fantasising about Hong Kong's autonomy, Zhang's pronouncements came as a slap in the face.

In delivering his work report, Premier Li Keqiang dropped a further bombshell by omitting from his statement on Hong Kong and Macau words regarded by Hong Kong pundits as sacrosanct and central to the concept of "one country, two systems", namely, "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" and "a high degree of autonomy".

Although Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing's head representative in Hong Kong, elaborated afterwards that "one country, two systems" embraced the elements of both, questions linger as to whether their absence from an official speech reflects a subtle shift of emphasis in Beijing's policy on Hong Kong.

The question of whether Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy is intact really depends on the extent to which one wishes to stretch or overstretch Hong Kong's autonomy. If one is content with our separate systems and way of life, including the rule of law, capitalist system, the feisty media, rowdy daily protests and free and fair district and Legislative Council elections, then "one country, two systems" has worked extremely well, beyond the expectations of many who planned to emigrate before 1997.

But if one is going after political autonomy such as befits an independent political entity in defiance of the constitutional and historical reality of Hong Kong, one risks putting Hong Kong on a collision course with its motherland, and, in the process, undermining the vitality and harmony of this city.

The reality is that, historically, Hong Kong has always been part of China. As one Post reader pointed out in his letter published last Tuesday, Hong Kong benefited tremendously from British rule during the colonial days. Chinese in Hong Kong learned to live under the rule of law, probably Britain's greatest gift to mankind. Hong Kong's status as a British colony sheltered it from the turmoil of China for more than 100 years. Yet there is no denying that the China factor always loomed large in Hong Kong's development.

After the establishment of the People's Republic, China ensured a plentiful supply of food and water to Hong Kong, even at the height of its famine. Following the reform and opening up of China, Hong Kong's manufacturers and service providers benefited enormously from the abundant supply of cheap land and labour on the mainland, and the enormous market of 1.3 billion people. Yes, China kept up the supplies and opened its market out of self-interest, for good developmental reasons. But, both before and after 1997, Hong Kong people have always been given a special status and special consideration, well above that China would normally accord the mainland's teeming humanity.

With increasing movements of people across our artificial, northern boundary, new stress lines have inevitably emerged in our tiny city, already bursting at the seams with people and vehicles. More worrying to some is the rising influence of mainland culture, values and habits of mind on Hong Kong, with questions beginning to rise about whether "one country, two systems" will continue to thrive and survive after 2047.

Perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary, which recently added the terms "Hongkonger" and "Hong Kongese" to describe people from Hong Kong who consider Hong Kong their hometown, provides some useful pointers on how Hongkongers should resolve their identity issues. Hongkongers, like Chiu Chow folk and Fukienese, justifiably have a strong sense of their own heritage and identity. But, like their mainland brethren from other proud regions of China, we are part of the family.

Whether Hong Kong culture and values will endure beyond 2047 ultimately depends on ourselves - provided we don't allow bigotry, narrow-mindedness and complacency to get the better of our good sense, tolerance and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves.

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


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"historically, Hong Kong has always been part of China."
This is an ambiguous statement. We know that for the last 150+ years prior to 1997 it was not part of China. We also know that Chinese territories now under PRC control, such as Tibet and Xinjiang were not part of China during the Chou, Ch'in, Han, Six Dynasties, Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties, Sung, Southern Sung and Ming Dynasties and were only part of what is now referred to as China during the Yuan Dynasty (ruled by Mongolians) and the Qing Dynasty (ruled by Manchurians).We know parts of Vietnam and Burma used to be part of China. In this context its difficult to even define "China" as it changed in geography and ethnic leadership so many times. The fact of the matter is we must look at what is present now. What people, culture, values, lifestyle exists in the present and not revert to some ancient claim to justify how things should be now. The trade and investment with China has always been two way and from the early reform period until the present, Hong Kong investors remain China's largest foreign investor class. Hong Kong prospers and exists today because of the way it has developed, both politically and economically. However, things have become worse since the handover, so to preserve Hong Kong and what we have we should indeed be resisting pressure from the undemocratic Mainland to tell us how our democracy should look. China is also setting a poor example for Taiwan. What will HK do if China fails?
Always historically ? Regina Ip, as a Director rank official declaring loyalty to Her Majesty, YOU were part of the Administration when Hong Kong was NOT a part of China !
Wow, I disagree with most of the points.. :) It's not that difficult to define China really. Yes, she has a long history, over 5000 years in fact.. but how far back do you want to go? Let's just go back to 1971 when the PRC joined the UN as the master of China.. Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan are points of contention but no other country actually disputes the facts that these 'territories' belong to China..
On this point here " Hong Kong prospers and exists today because of the way it has developed, both politically and economically. ".. I want to add few bullet points..
The factors that made HK rich:
..because of talents, cash imported from ROC when the mainland fell to the communist (Taiwan benefited enormous from the KMT gov enough though my Taiwanese 'Green Gang' frens would vehemently deny this)..
..before the PRC opened it's 'doors' for foreign trade HK was the only open 'gate' for the import and export from China.
"Hong Kong people just want clean, accountable and competent local government. We just want to elect our own own mayor. ".. fair enough and all the above points taken..!
But how do you ensure those people who waves 'colonial flags' and those who want to stir up emotions just to win votes (ala DPP in Taiwan) from being elected..
"Always historically ? Regina Ip, as a Director rank official declaring loyalty to Her Majesty, YOU were part of the Administration when Hong Kong was NOT a part of China !"

Regina is a total opportunist. She's also arrogant, manipulative, and self serving. She would be a terrible Chief Executive. We already saw how bad her performance was in 2003 when she was the head of the Security Bureau.

I also agree with XYZ that everything about this article was reasonable until she had to make that infuriating remark "whether Hong Kong culture and values will endure beyond 2047 ultimately depends on ourselves"

She even has to refer to a reader that Hong Kong had benefited tremendously from the Brits. She couldn't say the truth herself.
Why doesn't Hong Kong have any long term heavy industry or hi tech industry but the fragile service industry ?
Because Britain took all the money away from Hong Kong to fill up Britain's treasury.
Well put, Regina. Hong Kong culture and values are variations of a China theme.
Hate China readers in these pages are illiterates. None of them read Tang poems, Analects and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I never talked back to my late parents disrespectfully, let alone yelled and screamed at them. And I don't know what core values -- democracy, transparency, etc., always regurgitated in the same meaningless slogans by mindless zombies, are all about.
I always introduce myself to foreigners as a Chinese from Hong Kong. I share with Westerners the pride in their cultural giants, John Locke, Kant, Newton, Einstein and Beethoven, about whom I am sure that leaders of HK bananas such as Ms. Anson Chan know absolutely nothing.
Ugh Regina again.
XYZ well said.



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