Beijing White Paper 2014

Beijing's white paper reasonably sets out its expectations of Hong Kong

Graeme Maxton says Hong Kong should study the facts before protesting

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:03am

Before we set fire to any more State Council documents, claiming they are little better than toilet paper, or get in a stew about how independent Hong Kong's judiciary is, we should reflect a little on Beijing's latest white paper on "one country, two systems".

What the central government is saying is neither daft nor unexpected, and that means it is not so unreasonable, either. We are within a few years of an election long promised, and there are hopes and expectations on both sides. All Beijing is doing is saying what it expects, and we would be wise to listen to that before we start marching through the streets.

Let's look at the facts.

Whether you like it or not, Hong Kong is a very small part of a very big country. We are but seven million souls among almost 1.4 billion - half of one per cent. The other 99.5 per cent live under a central socialist authority which has, for the most part, functioned reasonably well, at least during the past 20 years. It may have caused horrid pollution and have a questionable human rights record, as well as all sorts of other problems, but China's economic policies have proved better than anyone else's in promoting growth.

Arguably, given China's history and the number of people, it has only managed this because it is controlled by one political party. So it would be wise for us to respect that, and understand that this is not going to change, no matter how many people march through Wan Chai and no matter what Uncle Sam and his meddling non-governmental organisations try to engineer during the next 36 months.

Asking us to make sure we elect people who support this model is simply a practical necessity. And Beijing has stuck to its word most of the time, despite what all the fearmongers said would happen before the handover in 1997.

Secondly, the autonomy already enjoyed by Hong Kong's government and its people is really rather remarkable by any standard, given that it is a small "administrative region" within a vast and rapidly changing country. We have our own government, tax system, financial system, a separate legal system, currency and culture, and all this is respected, and will continue to be respected, as long as we play the game, too.

This is much more than some countries that are nominally independent. We issue our own passports and have our own consulates abroad. And we have a free-market system, one of the most extreme in the world.

In contrast, several fully fledged countries do not have their own currencies, while others, like Scotland, do not have comprehensive tax-raising rights or the right to issue passports. The legal systems of many countries in Europe also have to defer to higher European, or extra-regional, courts such as the European Court of Human Rights.

That is not to say that we should accept that our legal system should not still be independent. It is only to say that nothing is ever black and white and we should not simply assume that there should never be a higher authority. We are part of China and we need to remember that, be thankful for the freedoms we already have, and make the best of the elections that are to come, understanding that we have the chance to achieve more or to screw things up completely.

We became committed to reunification when Britannia sailed over the horizon and that is not going to change. To say that Beijing is determined to maintain control is simply a fact. We don't need to fret or moan about it. We need to accept it.

So let's try to remember to be practical and sensible about all this, as well as ambitious and optimistic as we always are.

This will get us much further in the end.

Graeme Maxton is an author