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Hong Kong Basic Law

It’s time to resolve conflicts over ‘one country, two systems’

As Hong Kong celebrates the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty, differences over the core principle of governance remain

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 12:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 1:20pm

The question of how Hong Kong should develop under the “one country, two systems” formula has again been brought up by state leaders. This is to be expected as the city marks the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty. While the principles expounded are not startling, they underline Beijing’s growing concerns over the city’s development.

The latest remarks by Zhang Dejiang (張德江), chairman of the National People’s Congress, are the most comprehensive summary yet of “the accurate” understanding of the relationship between Beijing and the special administrative region.

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The nation’s third-highest ranking official warned that the city must not use the “high degree of autonomy” that it had been given to challenge state sovereignty. He reiterated that the central government had a wealth of powers over the city, such as directing the chief executive, removing public officials and vetting legislation. He also told judges to learn the Basic Law, dismissing the concept of the legislature and the judiciary keeping the executive branch in check, as in the case in some Western nations.

The lines are similar to those in a 2014 State Council white paper, which was aimed at clarifying what was said to be misunderstanding of the one country, two systems principle. But what sets it apart this time is that it comes on the eve of the SAR’s 20th anniversary.

The tough rhetoric has inevitably raised fears that Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong will be tightened further. Some have also criticised Beijing for going beyond the guiding principles laid down by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) before the handover. But from Beijing’s point of view, the keynote speech by Zhang goes beyond setting the record straight. It also served as a stern warning against the rise of pro-independence elements in recent years.

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It remains unclear how it will shape the city’s governance and development at this stage. So far, chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has only given a guarded response to the remarks. But it would not be surprising if the incoming government is already feeling the heat. The emphasis by Beijing on the need for the city to enact a national security law is the clearest yet since Lam won the top job. Whether the new government’s policy and agenda will be affected as a result will be closely followed by the people.

What is certain, though, is that more issues will arise as one country, two systems develops. It is important that both the city and the mainland adhere to the Basic Law when resolving differences. The 20th anniversary of the handover is a good opportunity to reflect on the past and the way forward. Hopefully, it will help Hong Kong chart the right path in accordance with one country, two systems and the Basic Law.