25 April 2019
Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former secretary for the civil service, said Hong Kong should be an international city, not a Chinese municipality. Photo: HKEJ
Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former secretary for the civil service, said Hong Kong should be an international city, not a Chinese municipality. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong should emphasize ‘two systems’: Joseph Wong

Strengthening ‘two systems’

After China’s State Council released its white paper on the “one country, two systems” policy, many Hong Kong people became worried that the city would gradually shift to a “one country, one system” regime or eventually become a Chinese municipal city. They noted that the document puts focus on “one country” while downgrading the “two systems” principle.

The recent handling of the pro-democracy protests, particularly the use by riot police of tear gas and pepper spray on the unarmed student activists, also fueled fears that Hong Kong has adopted the mainland system to suppress dissent.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, former secretary for the civil service, said Hong Kong should not let itself be transformed into a Chinese city but should use its advantages under the “two systems” principle to maintain its status as an international city. 

“Hong Kong should always emphasize two systems, which will allow the city to enjoy a special status over the global platform,” Wong told EJ Insight in an interview. “Hong Kong is not a Chinese municipal city but a special administration region.”

Although Macau is also a special administration region, only Hong Kong has the economic scale to bring “one country, two systems” into full play, Wong said. 

Since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took the helm in 2012, the government has been downgrading Hong Kong’s international city status due to an emphasis on “one country”, Wong said. 

“It is not wrong for the Hong Kong government to open more trade offices in the mainland. But can we also open some in India and South American countries?” Wong said. “Why can’t government officials follow the past practice of giving English speeches in every press conference?”

He also said Leung showed weak leadership in handling the Manila hostage crisis. When families of the victims expected the Hong Kong government to fight for their rights, Leung was seen talking pleasantly with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Indonesia last year.

Wong said the government should always keep in mind that Hong Kong is an international city and should make good use of the “two systems”, which is recognized by the central government. 

The world no longer cares about HK?

Simon Shen Xu Hui, a renowned Hong Kong scholar of international studies, recently wrote a commentary titled “Foreign diplomats: HK is out of sight of the world”, which was carried by the Hong Kong Economic Journal, EJ Insight’s parent publication, earlier last month. The article can serve as a prelude to a discussion of the city’s external affairs. (The following paragraphs came from Wong’s commentary published on Sept. 17)

I served in a number of posts during the British Hong Kong government including as undersecretary for commerce and industry and as permanent representative of Hong Kong to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (predecessor of the World Trade Organization) in Geneva. Before my retirement, my last position in the SAR government was secretary for commerce, industry and technology and I attended numerous WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meetings in my official capacity.

In a book I wrote after my retirement, I talked at length about the then British Hong Kong government’s efforts to promote the colony’s international status and its many benefits, and hoped that the SAR government can continue with the endeavor.

Preserving Hong Kong’s international status is indeed in line with China’s national interests.

Yet, what I have seen over the past few years is just the opposite. Today, the territory’s hard-won international standing may be in potential danger of fading into obscurity. The changing landscape of global politics and economy may have somewhat reduced Hong Kong’s prominence, but it is the SAR government itself that should take most of the blame.

Let me elaborate.

In the political world, the real motive behind some superpowers’ preaching of the merits of “universal values” can be economic interests. In the context of Hong Kong, such interests have two implications: reaping economic benefits in the territory and the city’s value as a vehicle for realizing such interests elsewhere.

Despite stalled economic growth for the most part since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong remains a world city and a bourgeoning business hub teeming with opportunities. The free flow of capital, clean and efficient governance (although the standard has been falling in recent years) and independent judiciary (you can sue the government and win the case) all add to the charm.

Besides political affairs, a vital function of modern diplomacy is to help domestic enterprises capture opportunities abroad. In this sense, many major countries continue to regard Hong Kong as a key foothold in finance and trade. Thus, I bet that at a time when Hong Kong-China relations are wading into unknown waters, many foreign consulates and diplomatic missions in Hong Kong have been watching closely the latest developments of the Occupy Central campaign and other political movements as well as the potential impact on finance and economy.

It’s obvious that, although they are following these issues, foreign countries will not necessarily express their solidarity with the Hong Kong people.

On the other hand, foreign countries may be thinking how they can use Hong Kong to advance their economic interests.

One example is the territory’s WTO membership. The United States and the European Union like to use Hong Kong as a role model to advocate low tariff, free trade and open market, and in many multilateral talks, Hong Kong has a unique role to play regarding opening up financial sectors, anti-dumping, arbitration, intellectual property protection and many other agendas.

After the establishment of the WTO, I was once invited to head a committee to settle disputes over the United States’ discriminatory treatment against gasoline from Brazil and Venezuela.

Unfortunately, as Hong Kong’s current top leaders spare no effort to adhere to the “one China” principle in terms of political allegiance, Hong Kong’s international status is being eroded.

For instance, prior to his official visit to the US last June, Chief Executive CY Leung reportedly turned down Washington’s invitation to meet US President Barack Obama — who is indeed of the same rank as Leung within the APEC system.

As for overseas investors, whether they can continue to strike gold in Hong Kong is the only consideration for their continued attention to the city’s issues. And, judging from my observation, besides air pollution and the inadequacy of international school places, most foreign investors and professionals will acknowledge that Hong Kong is an ideal place to work, play and live in. It’s also safe to say that many of them may become upset when the place becomes polarized and entangled in seemingly endless internal friction.

As for international media organizations, a slew of incidents and demonstrations since Leung took office in 2012 have put Hong Kong back in the spotlight. The Chinese legislature’s ruthless ruling on the election framework has prompted many prominent newspapers like the Financial Times, International New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc., to run editorials pressing for democratic reform in Hong Kong on top of their intensive coverage of the issue. Given these publications’ global reputation, Hong Kong remains a focus of the international community. That’s why CY Leung and Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam also wrote in Financial Times and WSJ to explain the SAR government’s stance on electoral reforms.

(Frank Chen contributed in translating this commentary.)

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When families of the Manila bus tragedy victims expected Hong Kong government to fight for their rights, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was seen talking pleasantly with Philippine President Benigno Aquino at an APEC meeting in Indonesia last year. Photo:

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