Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong must treasure and protect its core values, including ‘one country, two systems’

Jenny Huen and Paul Yip say the Legco oaths controversy and its aftermath in a deeply polarised city are the result of divergent political camps failing to agree on guiding principles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 4:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 6:32pm

In recent years, relations between different political camps and between different stakeholders (including the government) in Hong Kong have become increasingly strained and polarised. One of the fundamental reasons behind this phenomenon may be a difference in core values. So what are the values that Hong Kong people uphold, and how do they differ across political affiliations?

A review of the platforms that candidates campaigned on in September’s Legislative Council election may offer some insights. We collated information from the Registration and Electoral Office, where each candidate presented their election platforms on a single-page format. Given the limited space, candidates presented their platforms with key statements, which help identify their core values, as well as political stances.

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We also compared the core values presented in the last four policy addresses under the present government, since 2013. In these, the government committed to upholding five core values of Hong Kong: freedom, human rights, democracy, the rule of law and clean governance. To what extent are these five core values advocated by the newly elected legislators and their political camps?

Consolidating the election platforms of the 35 elected legislators from the five geographical constituencies, all five core values can be found, in from 3 per cent to 31 per cent of their platforms. Democracy came out on top, at 31 per cent, followed by clean governance (23 per cent), the rule of law (20 per cent), freedom (14 per cent) and, lastly, human rights (3 per cent). More interestingly, none of these values is commonly shared by all three major political camps (pro-establishment, pan-democrat, and localist/radical), which could explain the deep division among political parties in Hong Kong.

The endorsement of the five core values differs across political affiliations. Our preliminary analysis reveals that the pro-establishment group mostly values the rule of law and clean governance, whereas the pan-democrats place stronger emphasis on freedom and democracy, and the top values for the localist/radical camp are democracy, freedom, and human rights.

Apart from these five, there are also emerging core values, identified from a considerable number of election platforms of newly elected lawmakers. These include social justice/equality (26 per cent); “one country, two systems” (26 per cent); and autonomy and self-determination for Hong Kong (37 per cent). The values found on the election platforms can be regarded as Hong Kong’s core values, as people voted for candidates whose values they endorsed the most. A conflict between core values, such as upholding “one country, two systems” under the Basic Law versus autonomy and self-determination for Hong Kong, may have a detrimental effect on society, especially when stakeholders or representatives of public opinion fail to carry out constructive dialogue and are unable to forge a consensus in the course of policymaking.

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This calls for a thorough examination of Hong Kong’s core values. From these findings, it appears voters in Hong Kong are inclined to give the greatest importance to democratic development in the city. Indeed, democracy-related issues have come into focus lately, as seen in public opinion on universal suffrage and the political reform package. An understanding of core values is pivotal to enhancing the responsiveness of public policy to the evolving needs and demands of society. But Hong Kong’s core values could be changing too, in view of its changing population dynamics, with more migrants from the mainland. But it is hard to say whether they will be more pro-establishment or democratic-minded.

By identifying the commonalities and differences in the core values of candidates, and their differences with those of the government, it may be possible to enable stakeholders with disparate core values to identify shared interests and cultivate some common ground.

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Conflict between the core values of “one country, two systems” and autonomy and self-determination for Hong Kong has started to have a detrimental effect on society. The oath-taking controversy involving the two localist legislators is very unfortunate and the resultant chaos has caused much damage to society. Do these two young people realise the severity of the consequences, now that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee has interpreted Article 104 of the Basic Law which includes a new ruling on oath-taking for Hong Kong legislators? We need to treasure and protect each and every one of our core values, including “one country, two systems”.

Jenny Huen is a doctoral student of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong. Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at HKU