Under the 'one country, two systems' formula, Hong Kong must learn to walk tightrope

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 1:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 1:23am

There can be no dispute that the "one country, two systems" principle has been the underpinning of our constitutional order since Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But ironically, its actual implementation has, from time to time, been the subject of heated debate. Increasingly, the central government and the Hong Kong public seem to have widely differing understandings of what the concept means, even though it has been tried and tested for 18 years. Today's anniversary of the handover provides an opportune time for deeper reflection. On one hand, the city - as part of "one country" - remains one of the most prosperous in the region, capitalising on the opportunities arising from the mainland. But, on the other hand, there is also growing anxiety over "two systems". The influence of Beijing and the mainland in general on our politics has become more noticeable, raising concerns about whether the city's high degree of autonomy - as enshrined in the Basic Law - is being eroded.

Envisaged by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping as the solution for post-colonial Hong Kong - and ultimately the Taiwan issue - "one country, two systems" is a great concept. Like any other endeavour, it evolves over time. During the early stage, emphasis was placed on "two systems", with Beijing, by and large, employing a hands-off approach when it came to affairs that fell within the city's jurisdiction. That approach continued until 2003, when the city marked the July 1 anniversary with a 500,000-strong anti-government protest. Since then, Beijing has seen the need to play a greater role in the city's development. Separately, cross-border integration also fuelled antagonism and nurtured the rise of "localism", prompting Beijing to put more emphasis on the concept of "one country". The State Council even put out a white paper to clarify what it saw as misunderstanding of the formula.

Beijing has made it clear that the democratic development of the city cannot jeopardise national interests and security. To Beijing, the need for Hong Kong to better appreciate its responsibilities under "one country" is obvious. But to Hongkongers, the "two systems" concept is equally, if not more, important. It is in the interests of both sides to continue exploring how best to make the principle work. As experience has shown, a push for one or the other side of the formula only sows discord. A new balance is called for. We need a clear consensus on where the balance should be struck. Otherwise, the political deadlock will continue.