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Hong Kong Basic Law

Risks and opportunities ahead for Hong Kong, top US envoy to city says

But Kurt Tong notes that, although ‘one country, two systems’ model works reasonably well now, framework may erode in future

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 1:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 7:08pm

The top US diplomat to Hong Kong has maintained a cautiously optimistic attitude about the city’s retaining a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework, saying there are both risks and opportunities ahead.

US Consul General Kurt Tong said in Washington that the model, as implemented through the city’s Basic Law, or mini-constitution, was “generally working reasonably well”.

But the greatest concern was that “the framework would somehow erode and no longer work as well as it had for the past 20 years”, Tong said on Tuesday, during an event at think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

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Tong’s comments came as Hong Kong prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its handover from Britain to China on July 1. The city’s incoming leader, chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, will also be inaugurated on that day.

Tong, who has met Lam on several occasions since her election win in March, said he was “actually quite optimistic” that Hong Kong would “seize the opportunity of the coming years to leverage its autonomy, and use that autonomy to maintain and reinforce its global standing”.

The city faces competition from cities on the mainland, including Shenzhen, dubbed “China’s Silicon Valley”, and financial centre Shanghai, according to Clement Leung Cheuk-man, Hong Kong’s commissioner for economic and trade affairs to the US.

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“As China now is a US$11 trillion economy, no single city will be able to singly handle the needs and demands of that big ... economy. Inevitably, Hong Kong will be losing [its market] share,” Leung said at the event.

Tong said the feature that set Hong Kong apart from other Chinese cities was its high degree of autonomy.

“Autonomy is the key to Hong Kong’s success,” the diplomat said.

Autonomy is the key to Hong Kong’s success
US Consul General Kurt Tong

Hong Kong’s highly developed rule of law, independent judiciary, and respect for individual rights were fundamental to its way of life, as well as its economic prosperity, he added.

“[But] some observers now see increasing risks that Beijing will be less tolerant of Hong Kong’s differences and therefore will seek to make Hong Kong more like the rest of China,” Tong said.

In a brief review of US-Hong Kong relations published last Wednesday, the US State Department concluded that Hong Kong had generally maintained a high degree of autonomy, while certain actions by the Chinese central government this year had appeared inconsistent with Beijing’s commitment in the Basic Law to allow Hong Kong to exercise that autonomy.

In a previous interview with the Post, Tong rejected the accusation of “foreign interference”, saying that “stating an opinion about the United States’ aspirations for Hong Kong is not interfering in Hong Kong’s domestic political affairs”.

“If I was out campaigning for specific candidates or issues that don’t have anything to do with the US, that would be interference. We don’t do that,” he said.