25 October 2016
China and Britain perform Hong Kong's ceremonial handover in 1997. The handover treaty expires in 2047, unleashing a host of new issues. Photo: HKEJ
China and Britain perform Hong Kong's ceremonial handover in 1997. The handover treaty expires in 2047, unleashing a host of new issues. Photo: HKEJ

Looks like no universal suffrage but don’t forget 2047

It’s not too early to think about 2047.

With a controversial election reform bill facing defeat in the Legislative Council, Hong Kong should move on to other matters, the inevitable end of “one country, two systems” being one of them.

Let’s get the electoral reform proposal out of the way.

Recent surveys show conflicting findings about public support or opposition to the bill, but at this stage, everything is down to pan-democrats who have vowed to crush it.

But theirs is not a “no” vote until it is, so we will leave room for the possibility that the bill just might squeak through.

Still, that should not stop Hong Kong people from looking 32 years into the future when their struggles for democracy, rights and freedoms face a new uncertainty as Beijing resumes full sovereignty.

Things could be very different then.

Wang Guangya, the top Beijing official responsible for Hong Kong and Macau, may have given us a glimpse of the future when he told pro-Beijing newspapers that no legal system stays the same forever.

Wang, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, made the comment in relation to the election bill which he said can be improved once it becomes law.

In the heightened political climate surrounding Wednesday’s start of legislative debate on the proposal, we may have missed the full implications of Wang’s statement.

But if nothing else, it signals Beijing’s willingness to make compromises on Hong Kong’s democratic development going forward.

It may be too late to turn things around for the embattled proponents of the election bill but it offers something for future discussion.

So what next?

Hong Kong cannot be consumed by political impasse every five years when it chooses its leader and it’s not useful to keep looking back at what might have been.

After 2017, it will have only six chief executive elections left.

Civic Party chief Alan Leong and student leader Joshua Wong want Hong Kong to shift gears and start pondering the day when all goes back to square one.

Leong says Hongkongers cannot escape the thought of July 1, 2047 or the reality of a vastly different Hong Kong after that date.

Beyond politics, there are important issues tied to the expiration of the handover treaty. Many land leases, for instance, are up in 2047, Leong says.

But Wong wants to make sure that Hong Kong’s historic journey to a new chapter will be anchored in genuine democracy.

Pro-democracy activists blame Hong Kong’s social conflict on distrust of Beijing over its implementation of “one country, two systems” and weaknesses in the Basic Law.

They say this has cost Hong Kong its uniqueness and turned it into just another Chinese city.

The fact is Hong Kong’s present-day concerns will look smaller in the rearview mirror. Bigger issues lie in the road ahead.

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EJ Insight writer

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