There’s no escaping constitutional reality for Hong Kong
China’s constitution provides the legal foundation for the ‘one country, two systems’ concept that has served the city well for 20 years and should continue to do so
The precise relationship between China’s constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law has long been the subject of debate in the city. What is clear, however, is that the constitution provides the legal foundation for the “one country, two systems” concept. Article 31 of the constitution allows special administrative regions to be created in China with systems different to the one existing on the mainland. The system for Hong Kong is set out in the Basic Law, in accordance with that provision.
This relationship was compared by a Beijing liaison office official on Monday to that of a mother and son. Whether that description is apt, is a matter of opinion. But there is no denying the link between the two constitutional documents.
Wang Zhenmin, legal chief at the liaison office, was speaking at an event to mark National Constitution Day. It was the fourth consecutive year for the day, falling on the anniversary of the adoption of the 1982 constitution, to be celebrated on the mainland and the first time in Hong Kong. The commemoration aims to promote better understanding of the constitution and rule of law.
Efforts to promote better understanding of the constitution and its relevance to Hong Kong are welcome because the Basic Law, which allows the city to have a high degree of autonomy and a different system to the mainland, is underpinned by the constitution.Much of the constitution concerns the implementation of the socialist system. The Basic Law states that Hong Kong is to have a capitalist system and not a socialist one. In this respect, and in others, the constitution and the Basic Law are different.
Wang said Hong Kong people must accept Communist Party rule in China and respect the socialist system applying on the mainland. His comments reflect reality. Like it or not, the Communist Party is China’s ruling party and that has to be recognised. It does not mean, however, that the party is free from criticism in Hong Kong. Indeed, Deng Xiaoping, speaking in 1987, said Hong Kong people would be free to scold the party once the city returned to Chinese sovereignty. What they could not do, he said, was to allow Hong Kong to become a base for action against the mainland.
Hong Kong people’s freedom to openly discuss China’s political system falls within the freedom of speech protected by the Basic Law. This is part of the separate system the city enjoys under the constitution. There is a need for both systems to be respected and for the one country, two systems concept to be upheld and protected.
Twenty years after being introduced, it remains the best option for maintaining Hong Kong’s position as a special part of China.