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Basic Law

Hong Kong must accept the limits imposed by ‘one country, two systems’

Sonny Lo says an understanding of the contradiction inherent in the policy will lead Hong Kong to work to its strengths. For one, it should devote efforts to boosting the autonomy of its institutions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 8:07pm

The move by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to interpret Article 104 of the Basic Law has been seen by critics as a failure of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong. It is too early to jump to this conclusion. The interpretation was necessary because the two young activists in the oath-taking row failed to meet the requirement of being a patriot, defined by Deng Xiaoping ( 鄧小平 ), the architect of the “one country, two systems” policy, as someone who “respects the Chinese nation” and supports “the motherland’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong”.

There is a contradiction inherent in “one country, two systems”. Hong Kong’s economy remains unapologetically capitalist, but, even though the mainland has been experimenting with some capitalist-style reforms, it is still a socialist state. Some Hong Kong people believe that the mainland will eventually become capitalist, converging with our economy. This assumption is oversimplistic. As recent events demonstrate, socialist China is governed by a strong central state willing to intervene in Hong Kong matters to stop unpatriotic people entering the Legislative Council and using it to advocate independence.

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Moreover, we can’t ignore the different legal cultures in the two systems. Lawyers educated in the common law system see the interpretation as an erosion of Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy. But Beijing and mainland legal experts see it not only as a legal move empowered by the Basic Law, but also as a legitimate last resort to stem the growing tide of “Hong Kong independence”.

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Article 1 of the Basic Law emphasises that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China. Immediately following that, Article 2 affirms that Hong Kong has an independent judiciary. As such, young and politically immature activists should focus on the institutional aspect of “independence”, namely, how to make the political institutions, including the chief executive election, the judiciary and Legco, more autonomous.

The pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong will have to decide whether to seek dialogue with mainland officials on political reform, under the parameters set by the NPC Standing Committee in 2014. If they don’t, the political wounds from the Occupy Central movement, the Mong Kok riots and the oath-taking controversy will linger. Even worse, some politically excluded and disgruntled youths will be forced to resort to street protests.

It is time for all political stakeholders to reflect on the turbulent times, and seek to more profoundly understand the inherent contradictions in “one country, two systems”.

Sonny Lo is a political commentator