Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” governing principle will not change after 2047 if it is properly improved, a senior Beijing legal official has said, marking the strongest assurance from the nation’s top legislative body on the future of the policy. Appearing at a legal forum on Friday via video conference, Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, renewed Beijing’s pledge to Hong Kong, one month ahead of the 25th anniversary of the city’s return from British to Chinese rule on July 1 “The principle of one country, two systems will undergo a long-term and steady development if the empirical experience proves it is successful, effective and popular,” said Shen, who also chairs the Basic Law Committee. The one country, two systems principle, which is stipulated in the Basic Law, guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after reunification. But Shen said the concept of the 50-year lifespan was “only a symbolic description” and there would not be changes to the principle after 2047. In his keynote speech to the city’s senior officials and legal professionals, Shen cited Chinese President Xi Jinping and stressed the need for both the central and Hong Kong governments to keep the system “vital and effective” by responding to challenges and making improvements in a timely manner. Hong Kong to ramp up security for handover bash, guard against ‘new threats’ “Persistence does not mean rigidity and immutability … Without timely improvements, the system will lose track and its potential cannot be achieved in the long run,” Shen said. The top legal official also said the Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020 and last year’s electoral overhaul were examples of timely moves to plug loopholes in the system, with the previous iteration having allowed “anti-China forces” to “take over the administrative power” through polls and the legislature. “We absolutely do not allow acts that threaten national security, challenge the constitution and Basic Law, and infiltrate and sabotage the country through Hong Kong,” he said. Attending the same event, Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung said 186 people had been arrested for allegedly endangering national security since the law took effect in June 2020. Ten suspects in eight trials were convicted, with nine years of imprisonment being the heaviest penalty. Tang also said the government would press ahead with the legislation of the local version of the national security law, as required by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. The legal conference, which was titled “Stability to Prosperity”, was the second part of the three-day event hosted by the Department of Justice to mark Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule for 25 years. Guest speakers for the event include mainland Chinese officials, former and current judges, as well as prominent pro-Beijing politicians. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor, whose term expires on June 30, also made an appearance at the event, saying she regarded the 2019 extradition bill saga as the “most severe challenge” of her five-year term. She said the social unrest had challenged the one country, two systems principle by opposing the concept of “one country”. “To me, it was clearer than ever that there is no home without a country,” she said. “[The saga] made me deeply realise that deviations from the original intention of the one country, two systems would inevitably result in disastrous consequences.” Henry Litton , a retired Court of Final Appeal judge, also spoke at the event, saying that “there is no rule of law without the discipline of law”. “How a court acts has a knock-on effect. Indiscipline in the judiciary softens the fabric of society as a whole,” he said. “It leads to educated people thinking that civil disobedience is okay, that you can occupy Central for 79 days with no adverse consequences.” He said a white paper issued by the central government last year made it clear that the governing principle would continue long after 2047. Top Beijing official says Hong Kong’s autonomy won’t be undermined Shen said there was “no reason” to change the policy guiding Hong Kong, noting it had proved to be the “best solution” for maintaining the city’s stability and prosperity. As part of his speech, the top legal official cited remarks from late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping that openness was needed to achieve development goals He also appealed to different sectors in Hong Kong to contribute to the country’s development by capitalising on the opportunities created by the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress, which will be held in November. Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah also cited a 1987 speech by Deng, in which he highlighted the city’s guiding principle. “For the first 50 years it cannot be changed, and, after that, it would not be necessary to change,” he said. The key to protecting Hong Kong’s autonomy is good government In 1984, Beijing and London signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration to settle the future of Hong Kong, with the two governments agreeing China would reassume control of the city from July 1, 1997. The declaration, which has eight articles and three annexes, states that Hong Kong will remain unchanged for 50 years, and includes a promise that the city will retain a high degree of autonomy. Over the years, mainland officials have addressed the future of the principle on various occasions. In June 2020, Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), said the Beijing-imposed national security law would strengthen, not undermine, the governing principle and ensure the freedoms granted to the city could be extended beyond 2047. He also said the future of the principle would depend on how strongly the city was committed to national security. In March of this year, Xia Baolong, director of the State Council’s HKMAO, said the central government’s determination to implement one country, two systems remained unswerving, even after 2047.