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Basic Law

‘One country, two systems’ for Hong Kong could be scrapped if it is used to confront Beijing, official says

Liaison office legal chief warns city could lose the high degree of autonomy the policy offers, reiterating that ‘one country’ must come before ‘two systems’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 April, 2017, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 April, 2017, 11:37pm

The “one country, two systems” policy under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy for half a century may be scrapped if it becomes a tool to confront Beijing, the legal chief of the central government’s liaison office in the city has warned.

Wang Zhenmin was speaking on Saturday at a seminar where outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying earlier told Hongkongers that the “no change for 50 years” assurance under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, referred only to the capitalist system and did not mean Beijing’s sovereignty over the city could be changed afterwards.

Commemorating the 27th anniversary of the Basic Law, Leung said the autonomy Hong Kong was enjoying was authorised by Beijing and was not “full autonomy”, and the careful implementation of the governing formula was the best arrangement for both Hong Kong and the nation.

Wang, a former Tsinghua University law dean, devoted a significant part of his keynote speech to attacking rising separatist sentiments in the city, as he reiterated that “one country” must come before “two systems”.

“If the ‘two systems’ part ... is severely distorted or even [becomes a tool] to confront and damage ‘one country’, then the reasons and conditions for the ‘two systems’ to exist would be lost,” Wang said.

The nation was “disappointed and disheartened” to see separatists enter school campuses and the establishment, he said, urging Hongkongers to wholeheartedly accept that the sovereignty of the city had been returned to China for good.

Under Article 2 of the Basic Law, China’s top legislature authorises the former British colony to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power. But Wang warned that room for that autonomy could shrink if Hongkongers continued to challenge national security.

“The more Hong Kong fails to actively defend the sovereignty, national security and development interests of the country in accordance with law, the more wary the country might be on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the ‘two systems’. There would be less room for its autonomy.”

Wang also denied that Beijing was “interfering in the city’s internal affairs” – a long-held complaint by pro-democracy activists.

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“The country is only exercising its sovereignty in accordance with the law and that should not be regarded as ‘interference’,” he said. “Just like we cannot say your brain is interfering with your limbs as they have always been part of your body. [The brain] is only carrying out its own functions.”

Wang described the “one country, two systems” model as a “great experiment”, saying there was no room for failure, for which Hong Kong would pay a higher price than the nation as a whole. “If [the model] fails, the country will only lose face, but Hong Kong will lose everything,” he said.

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Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai was worried by Wang’s remarks.

“Does Wang mean Beijing is not going to realise its promise? If so, I’m afraid it would only tear Hongkongers and the central government further apart,” Wu said.

“The Basic Law only states that the central government’s power over Hong Kong is confined to national defence and foreign affairs.”