One country, two systems is as much about substance as appearance. We can argue till we are blue in the face about to what extent it still actually underpins Hong Kong-mainland relations. But given the high-profile manner in which Beijing has handed down its democratic reform package, officials on both sides of the border no longer bother to keep up appearances.
If this had happened during the administration of our first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa or even during the early years of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress would have handed down the official text of its decision, which would then most likely be left to the chief executive to explain it to the people here.
As it is, officials here have been literally relegated to the sidelines. As Li Fei , the Basic Law Committee chairman, briefed reporters yesterday at an official press conference on the Standing Committee's decision, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who supposedly headed the constitutional reform taskforce, sat in the audience alongside the hacks.
That picture, along with token appearances before the media of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in the last two days, says everything you need to know about the diminishing role the Hong Kong government has to play in this whole reform saga.
Since Sunday, it has been a mainland show. Li, along with vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee's legislative affairs commission Zhang Rongshun and the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Office deputy director Feng Wei, took over yesterday to brief some 1,000 lawmakers, district council chairmen and vice-chairmen, local deputies to the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, as well as journalists.
Local officials from Leung down stayed on the sidelines like secretaries and clerks to the mainland honchos.
Well, we have always known where the real power lies. But rarely has the power hierarchy been on such blatant display.
But at least in one sense, this is good. Li has the full authority of the central government. When he speaks, we know exactly where we stand.