19 January 2019
Demonstrators hold umbrellas outside the Central Government Offices in Admiralty. The protests mark a month since police used tear gas in a failed attempt to disperse students. Photo: Bloomberg
Demonstrators hold umbrellas outside the Central Government Offices in Admiralty. The protests mark a month since police used tear gas in a failed attempt to disperse students. Photo: Bloomberg

Does ‘one country, two systems’ exist at the party’s pleasure?

If the Chinese leadership continues to rule out any concession in the face of the month-long student protests and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sticks to his hard line, Hong Kong will be bogged down in an abyss of social division, estrangement and paralyzed governance. The rule of law and people’s livelihood are also doomed to suffer.

Under the guise of patriotism, Beijing has apparently placed political allegiance to the party on top of its pledges to Hong Kong. Regrettably the one country, two systems principle of the Basic Law has been distorted beyond recognition: Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy now only exists at the Communist Party’s pleasure.

Originally, the one country, two systems principle reflects a pragmatic approach when it comes to the territory’s relations with the mainland. But under the authoritarian one-party system, it’s clear that the only way for any local official or civil servant — including those in Hong Kong — to stay safe and advance his career is to be tractable and follow the party’s instructions.

With its economic triumphs, China nowadays regards itself as a superpower. Top communists are taking all the credit for the country’s successful transformation over the past decades.

Along with the mainland’s remarkable economic feat, Beijing has become more conspicuous and is no longer hesitant about asserting its influence on Hong Kong. Its downright political requirement that principal officials must “love the country and Hong Kong” is just one example.

Hong Kong takes pride in its free society but sadly, with a more assertive central leadership, local leftists and members of the establishment camp are increasingly putting on superficial paeans to Beijing. Under such circumstances, the “one person, one vote” pledge for Hongkongers is no longer immune to the Communist Party’s “Chinese characteristics”.

The ongoing student protests to pursue the genuine right to a free vote are now labeled by Beijing as treacherous and subversive.

Among all the harsh accusations, only a few, like disruption to road traffic and nearby residents and shops, are made on sensible grounds. Other charges like involvement of evil overseas forces, endangering national security or advocating Hong Kong independence are totally fictitious.

Even if there are some western countries trying to meddle with the territory’s constitutional development, given China’s comprehensive strength, is such level of vigilance and fear really warranted? Mainlanders are no strangers to groundless political accusations but it seems that these have already spread to Hong Kong.

Unlike communist cadres, local officials should understand the motive of civil disobedience and know well that student protesters are desperate for their election right. But apparently officials have put Beijing ahead of Hongkongers as the way to climb up the ladder, and the Hong Kong government dare not challenge the National People’s Congress.

Officials who turn a deaf ear and show no compassion for protesters can keep their official jobs safe but they are doing so at the cost of a free mind because they have to submit themselves to their bosses in Beijing. As they put Hong Kong’s freedom and core values in peril, they become victims as well.

Premier Li Keqiang reiterated “one country, two systems, Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy” during his visit to Europe last week. If he meant his words, there is still hope.

But if the Communist Party is determined to tighten its grip on local affairs to make one country, two systems subject to the party’s will and mandate, then it would be more than a genuine election that is at stake. It would be the very way of our life as we know it.

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Translation of Lam Hang-chi’s commentary that appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Translation by Frank Chen

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A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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