With ‘one-country, two systems’ formula in place, Hong Kong need not fear criticism from overseas

City’s record on rights is facing scrutiny from the likes of the United States and Britain but that is to be expected for a place that is a global business hub

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 11:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 11:25pm

Washington and Beijing have again traded blows over each other’s human rights record. In its latest report, the US criticised the crackdown on lawyers fighting social and political injustice on the mainland. The Chinese side hit back with its own report, highlighting escalating racial tensions and gun violence in the United States. The tit-for-tat rebuttals have become a ritual in recent years and is hardly surprising, given the two countries’ remarkably different socio-political contexts and highly complex relations.

It also does not come as a surprise when Hong Kong’s record is featured more prominently this year in the US report. Citing the row over the appointment of a pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong and the case of the “missing” booksellers, the US State Department expressed concerns over academic freedom and the alleged activities of mainland security forces in the city. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also weighed into the controversy surrounding the booksellers during a visit to the city this month. How can we resolve the conflicts in Hong Kong and ensure ‘one country, two systems’ thrives?

That Hong Kong has been subject to closer scrutiny by foreign governments speaks volumes about the perceptions people overseas have of our city . We were the focus of the world two decades ago when a British colony was handed back to China. But with the “one country, two systems” principle generally seen as having been well implemented in the early years, we started fading from the international radar. It was not until the 2014 Occupy protests that the spotlight returned to the city.

Beijing may well continue to dismiss the concerns of foreigners as intervention in its internal affairs. This has been its well-established position. The Hong Kong government has also toed the line recently when responding to the US human rights report. The truth is, that as an international city, we cannot escape foreign attention and assessment. The strong presence of transnational businesses in the city means foreign countries have legitimate interests in following developments here, be it economic or political, and speak out on issues of concern to them. This was the case before the 1997 handover to Chinese sovereignty and will continue to remain so in future.

Disappearance of booksellers puts ‘one country, two systems’ in the spotlight

Like it or not, the unsettling times we are going through is likely to attract even more attention. It is in the interests of Beijing, Hong Kong and foreign countries that the “one country, two systems” formula continues to work well.