The case for extending Hong Kong's 2047 deadline

Stephanie Cheung says a 100-year extension of 'one country, two systems' beyond 2047 would promote mutual understanding and give Hong Kong's political system extra time to mature

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 12:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 12:58am

If we imagine the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to be a person, by 2017 when he celebrates his 20th birthday, he will have the chance of participating in universal suffrage for the chief executive, and by 2018 (when he's 21), to vote in all his lawmakers. Even if 2017 slips by without universal suffrage, he may well have a vote by 2022, when he turns 25. This will realise his dream of being able to vote for a chief executive he trusts to govern Hong Kong in the way he wishes, and also to vote for his choice of legislative councillors.

Four years later, he will have learnt from their performances which politicians to trust, and which to spurn at the next elections; and in another five years, how to size up and choose a chief executive.

As he matures through his thirties, he accumulates experience and learns the ways of politicians, based on which he calibrates the political system, so that it could more effectively achieve the results the community wishes.

Yet in his forties, looking ahead to 2047 when he will be 50, he has to start planning and adjusting to the big change ahead when "one country, one system" will arrive and the Basic Law will expire. Electoral rights, freedom of speech, travel, conscience, from arbitrary arrest and presumption of innocence, to name just a few things, would no longer be guaranteed. Such a momentous change to his way of life and underlying values would call for early preparation, stealing from him precious time, energy and resources in the prime of his life which could otherwise be devoted to economic development, and perfecting the arrangement.

Contrast this with a 100-year extension for "one country, two systems". Such a new lease of life would provide him with maximum opportunity to make changes, fine-tune the system, and develop home-grown enlightened leaders at an unhurried pace. This is the substantive long-term merit of the proposal for extension.

In addition to the above, there are strategic advantages for discussing this proposal at this juncture.

Firstly, the current mood of Hong Kong is pessimistic, whether from shell shock over the umbrella protests or from the way the government is running Hong Kong. The community is fatigued. Constitutional reform lacks impetus. Trust in the government is at an all-time low. The better-off are contemplating emigration.

In the midst of all this, an announcement of extending the two-systems to 2147 would boost public and international confidence in Hong Kong's future, and provide a new vision and unity of purpose for the community.

Secondly, such an extension would cut through the present political stalemate; it should be a big enough concession to woo the pan-democrats to change their stance. It would be a powerful argument in favour of adopting the government's reform proposal for now, to build up election experience in Hong Kong for the next 100 years, when there will be many more opportunities for improving the political system.

Extending "two systems" would most likely find favour with the majority of Hong Kong people whose opinion would furnish the pan-democrats with a good reason to change their position.

Thirdly, for Leung Chun-ying's government, being able to arrange this extension with Beijing would restore public confidence in its ability to govern, and to hopefully pave the way to future co-operation inside and outside Legco. Fourthly, having a genuine "Hong Kong people rule Hong Kong" regime under an extended "two systems" would eclipse the seductiveness of toying with separatist ideas.

So, from Hong Kong's point of view, a decision at this time by Beijing on extending "two systems" would not only be a way out of the present difficulties, but also a bright platform for better growth and unity.

From China's point of view, the prospect of receiving the unruly mob from Hong Kong back into the motherland in 1997 was so unpalatable that it led to the devising of "one country, two systems". Fast forward to 2047, and the same considerations might still apply, albeit to different degrees. Compared with receiving back a Hong Kong populace which may be problematic, extending the "two systems" for another 100 years makes good sense and requires no major effort. Allowing natural developments over time to acclimatise the two different populations to each other's norms and attitudes is pragmatic. Increasing exchanges between students, business, academic and professionals and other sectors are taking place. From personal interaction will grow empathy and understanding.

As Hong Kong and the mainland move closer and closer to one another, there will come a time when it will be ripe for integration. However, to pluck a fruit before it is ripe, one only gets a fruit which is bitter. Why risk this?

In a football game, if there is a tie or stalemate, time can be added. In an experiment, if the results are not coming out in the way the scientist expects, he can cut short the experiment (a guaranteed loss) or prolong it (which gives a better chance to succeed and get at the truth).

In the international political arena, China is on the ascent. Extending "two systems" will demonstrate its political graciousness and self-confidence. Having a shining Pearl of the Orient as one of its front gates to the world would be China's pride, instead of headache.

Stephanie Cheung participated in the student movements in the 1970s, and is currently a solicitor and mediator, and volunteer in youth work and education