President Xi Jinping’s four key points for moving forward under ‘one country, two systems’
State leader delivers clearest message yet on understanding unique political model for relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China
Chinese President Xi Jinping has delivered his clearest message yet on how “one country, two systems” should be understood and what lies ahead for Hong Kong after operating under the unprecedented political model for 20 years since its handover from Britain to China.
Noting that new challenges had arisen from the application of the principle, such as the need to nurture national identity in the people, a split in opinions on major political and legal issues, and the city’s housing shortage and other economic and livelihood problems, Xi gave his views on how Hong Kong should move forward.
Here are his four key points:
1. To have a correct understanding of the relationship between “one country” and “two systems”
The paramount concept of “one country, two systems”, Xi said, is to “realise and uphold national unity”.
“In conducting day-to-day affairs, we must be guided by a strong sense of ‘one country’ … and thus correctly handle the relationship between the HKSAR and the central government,” he said.
Xi issued this strong warning against separatism: “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law … or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.”
Having said that, Xi noted that the two systems should “stay in harmony”. Differences between the two “should be respected”, and “at no time should we focus only on one aspect to the neglect of the other”.
Xi’s focus on the “one country” aspect of the model comes amid a debate in recent years in Hong Kong and on the mainland over whether the two halves of the one country, two systems formula carry equal weight.
Mainland scholars have argued that national interests come first, while mainstream Hong Kong pan-democrats are of the view that the city’s “core values”, such as respect for human rights, rule of law and pursuit of democracy, should not be sacrificed in favour of national development.
The debate has intensified to the extent that there are now calls for self-determination for Hong Kong, and even independence, although such voices have remained in the minority.
2. To always act in accordance with the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law of Hong Kong
To Xi, the constitution is “the fundamental law of the state”, while the Basic Law is “a basic legislation enacted in accordance with the constitution” that makes institutional arrangements for one country, two systems.
The president said: “In observing the constitutional order prescribed by the constitution and the Basic Law, it is important both for the central government to exercise power in accordance with the law and for the HKSAR to fulfil its own responsibilities as the main actor.
“We should improve the relevant institutions and mechanisms for implementing the Basic Law.”
In the early years after the handover, Hongkongers were always told that the Basic Law was the source of all they needed to know about one country, two systems. The national constitution was not highlighted. Hongkongers have treated the Basic Law as their city’s own “mini-constitution” – a view disputed by former liaison office publicity director Hao Tiechuan in 2013.
But it was only in 2015 when state leaders for the first time highlighted the importance of the national constitution for Hong Kong. That year, Premier Li Keqiang said in his annual work report that the central government would strictly comply with the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law in Hong Kong affairs.
3. To always focus on development as the top priority
Xi said that the concept of one country, two systems was advanced to achieve not just the resumption of exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong but also to “maintain [its] status as an international financial, shipping and trading centre in order to promote further growth”.
While telling people to seize economic opportunities, Xi did not mention reform for greater democracy.
4. To always maintain a harmonious and stable social environment
Noting that Hong Kong is a pluralistic society, Xi said it was no surprise that there were “major differences on some specific issues”.
In a veiled reference to the city’s pan-democratic politicians, who are often blamed for “politicising” matters, Xi said: “Making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation will not resolve the problems … It can only severely hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development.”
But in what could be a surprise twist, Xi appeared to extend an olive branch to the moderate pan-democrats by indicating his willingness to communicate.
He said: “On the part of the central government, we are ready to talk to anyone who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of one country, two systems and the Basic Law … no matter what political views or position he or she may hold.”
Before Xi’s speech on Saturday, there had been signs of Beijing softening its stance on the city’s mainstream pan-democrats. In recent years, those who had called for the vindication of the Tiananmen Square crackdown have once again been granted travel permits to visit the mainland, documents which had been unavailable to them for years. Nine lawmakers from the camp were invited to the government banquet hosted in Xi’s honour on Friday night.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung