Hong Kong must bravely confront the problems of ‘one country, two systems’
Alice Wu says the analysis by Hong Kong Vision of the root of the problems is spot on, and at least two of the recommendations – to formalise the liaison office’s responsibilities in Hong Kong, and initiate work on both Article 23 legislation and political reform – are worthy of consideration
“One country, two systems” has been the foundation of our lives as Hongkongers, post 1997. As a principle, the rules may seem clear. But in practice, the problems we have encountered both reflect and exacerbate Hong Kong’s existential angst.
It is time to address the issues. To do that, we must see past the sloganeering that often comes with any mention of the four words.
In this light, the serious work that Hong Kong Vision – a platform initiated by former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing – has done is commendable. The ideas laid out in its recently published research report on “One Country, Two Systems in Practice: Reviews, Analysis, and Proposals” deserve consideration.
First, we must acknowledge that all the nonsense over Hong Kong independence is an extension of the confidence crisis brought on by ignoring the challenges encountered under the “one country, two systems” framework. Advocacy of Hong Kong independence is self-destructive behaviour borne out of hopelessness and helplessness – a coping mechanism for being overwhelmed by the mounting difficulties.
Article 23 is perhaps the best illustration of that. While the Basic Law spells out the need for Hong Kong to enact national security legislation, there has been no serious attempt to do so since 2003, when half a million Hongkongers took to the streets to oppose any such move.
Watch: What is the Basic Law of Hong Kong?
But postponing our constitutional obligation has put us in a precarious position. When every mention of the nonsensical notion of self-determination and the like provokes a response from the central government, this cycle of action and reaction only raises the spectre of fear: are we seeing the beginning of the end of “one country, two systems’ and, in effect, the end of Hong Kong?
Twenty-one years after Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, these are not teething problems. We’d be foolish to ignore them.
Hong Kong Vision points to the root of the problem: the “intrinsic contradictions or the nature of the system, as well as the differences in point of view and way of thinking between Hong Kong people and the central government, often with mutual misinterpretation during the exchange of messages”.
Its report contains no radical measures, but paints an honest picture of our present state, squarely pointing to “the vicious cycle of mutual suspicion” that has plagued Hong Kong-mainland relations. We need to clear the air, not cloud it even more with speculation and fear.
It identifies areas where we can make proactive changes. Among its modest and practical proposals is the call for a formal definition of the status, functions and responsibilities of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, to be introduced as a new article in the Basic Law. Eliminating ambiguities would be a good start in disrupting the current cycle of paranoia and fear.
The report also proposes that the city simultaneously fulfil its dual constitutional obligations to enact local national security legislation and achieve the political reform goal of universal suffrage. This suggestion, too, has raised eyebrows. At least the report recognises the intrinsic connection between these two challenges.
We can keep burying our heads in the sand, or we can wake up to our harsh political realities. We may even begin to understand why some people have been so adamant about keeping the two separate (hint: keeping conflicts unresolved benefits these people, though not the rest of us).
We’re at a political breaking point: we’ve become a people constantly freaking out. If it’s not over the secret handing over of a port area inside the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus to mainland authorities, then it would be over something else.
It’s time to reject the easy call to resign ourselves to fatalism.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA