Xi Jinping believes Hong Kong will achieve its distant goal by walking steadily
Saying often heard in Sino-US relations is now applied by president to the course of ‘one country, two systems’ formula
“Walk steadily to reach the far distance” – this Chinese saying has been used quite frequently by President Xi Jinping in reference to the rocky road that Sino-US relations have been navigating in recent years.
But more recently, after setting foot in Hong Kong to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to China, Xi used the same proverb on several occasions to make it clear that Beijing would “unswervingly” maintain the “one country, two systems” model. His approach was not a matter of whether this unique formula, designed specifically for Hong Kong by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, would go on or not, but how to ensure its steady implementation all the way to its final destination.
Xi’s visit, without doubt, unveiled the clearest picture from Beijing yet as to where its future policy for Hong Kong is headed.
Speculation was rife and expectations were high regarding what the president was bringing along with him – more carrot or stick, in light of the current tensions between the city and the mainland. The answer, of course, still depends on who is talking and from which perspective.
One thing is for sure, though: the message comes right from the top and Hong Kong has heard it straight from the horse’s mouth that there is a “red line” when it comes to undermining China’s sovereignty. The pan-democrats and others can no longer dismiss it, as they have similar warnings in the past, as the exaggerated personal views of some hardliners at Beijing’s liaison office here or across the border rather than a reflection of the president’s own thinking.
The picture is clearer now, judging from several aspects of Xi’s visit.
Firstly, unlike his predecessors, Xi was quite frank in acknowledging the many problems and conflicts facing Hong Kong. He even made a small but significant modification to a well-known Chinese saying – “seeking common ground by allowing for small differences” – substituting the word “small” with “major” to indicate that he was well aware of the many conflicts here.
That explained why he repeatedly urged Hongkongers to return to rational debate for practical solutions.
Secondly, an important theme throughout his three-day visit was his authoritative clarification of the nation’s relationship with the city – or between “one country”, and “two systems”. Like it or not, the writing on the wall is clear now: “one country” represents the roots of a tree – only with the roots running deep and strong can a tree grow tall and luxuriant.
Thirdly, the departure from state leaders’ past practice of bringing one-way “gifts” for Hong Kong whenever they visit – such as allowing more mainland tourists into the city or making Hong Kong the country’s first offshore yuan business centre.
This time the launching of the Bond Connect scheme and the signing of a deal on Hong Kong’s participation in the Greater Bay Area development mega project signalled a significant change in the nature of gifts from Beijing – ones that will now allow Hong Kong to ride on the nation’s development train and become part of the China dream.
Xi even quoted a popular, colloquial Cantonese saying to remind Hong Kong not to miss the opportunities: “After leaving Suzhou, a traveller will find it hard to get a ride on a boat.”
Last but not least, he reminded the new chief executive and her cabinet that it would not be an easy job to run the government, but “it will be the shame of a lifetime” for them to be evasive on major controversies. He also reminded them to always bear in mind the national interest in whatever they did.
So, no more ambiguity now, and no more reasoning that some Beijing officials may have twisted Xi’s meaning in terms of Beijing’s emphasis on “one country” over “two systems”.
As the city celebrates its coming of age, can it take steadier steps towards the far distance with this unique governing model for Hong Kong?
Xi’s message is clear: with “one country” as the bedrock, “two systems” should have every reason to flourish in harmony.