My Take

Beware risk of challenging China's 'one country' concept for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 June, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 June, 2014, 4:12am

You say one country, I say two systems. I am afraid there is no definite right answer to this debate. Only disaster awaits if we fail to reach an understanding and compromise over electoral reform.

The whole concept of "one country, two systems" is an artificial, even self-contradictory construct; it resembles a house of cards that requires all sides not to fight because it could easily topple. It is a bit of a confidence trick that is best left alone, not to be probed too deeply lest it fails to withstand close scrutiny.

Yet both sides are now testing each other, demanding recognition that their interpretation of the concept is the one set in stone. One side comes up with civil nomination, Occupy Central and the June 20-22 referendum. Now the other side has produced a white paper, in the name of the State Council no less.

Beijing is unequivocal about where Hong Kong gets its power, privileges and prerogatives. They all come from the central government. And what Beijing gives, it can also take away. Under this so-called unitary state theory, there are no inherent or "residual" powers for Hong Kong.

I am not sure this is right. At least that wasn't how the Basic Law and "one country, two systems" was sold to us.

But the pan-democrats of Occupy Central persuasion have also overstepped the mark by insisting Beijing should have no or minimal say in how the political system is to be reformed to bring about universal suffrage. This is not only unrealistic politically. If the central government is constitutionally empowered to approve the final reform package to be presented by the Hong Kong government, it's untenable to insist it should have no say in the process.

Who's responsible for this dangerous stand-off? We all are. But powers, once granted, cannot easily be taken back. Hong Kong is run more like a city-state than a city - with our own currency, borders and passports, legal and tax systems, fiscal and budgetary independence, and separate representation in many world bodies. Such powers are not something Beijing can take away without destroying Hong Kong. But would Beijing risk destroying the golden goose if its "unitary" power is seen as being challenged and undermined? Yes, it would.