23 January 2019
It's time to get "one country, two systems" back on track. Photo: Reuters
It's time to get "one country, two systems" back on track. Photo: Reuters

‘One country, two systems’ in wake of electoral reform’s defeat

The central and Hong Kong governments both regarded the 2017 electoral reform package as a crucial test for the successful implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy, but the proposal was defeated.

Hong Kong has debated three political reforms in the past decade — one was passed in the Legislative Council and the others were voted down.

Even though political reform in Hong Kong might not represent the entire essence of “one country, two systems”, it is without question an important benchmark for assessing the implementation of that principle.

Some may ask: does the defeat of the reform proposal in Legco last week mean “one country, two systems” has failed or been undermined?

Perhaps one can answer this question from two different perspectives.

Firstly, the reform might be an important element of “one country, two systems”, but it doesn’t represent the whole of it.

For this reason, the defeat of the proposal is unlikely to cause any direct damage to the principle, let alone be seen as a sign of its complete failure.

Secondly, “one country, two systems” was originally intended to prevent Hong Kong from being affected by the “one system” in the mainland, so as to preserve our core values, such as civil rights and freedom, as well as our legal system, including the practice of the common law and judicial independence.

This legislative intent is spelled out in the Basic Law in concrete terms.

While the Basic Law hasn’t undergone any amendment since its promulgation back in 1990, “one country, two systems” has become today rather different from what was initially proposed decades ago.

As a matter of fact, Hong Kong people’s confidence in the principle recently hit a record low since the handover.

Does that mean it’s not the right time for me to propose a motion in Legco on Wednesday regarding the continuation of “one country, two systems”?

True, given that the principle has deviated from its original design and many of our fellow citizens have lost confidence in it, it might be the worst time to propose that it should be continued.

However, since there is still more than 30 years to go before 2047, it might be timely to put forward this suggestion, as we still have plenty of time to put “one country, two systems” back on the right track again to ensure its implementation.

So how exactly should we do it?

Learning from the lesson of the failure of the recent attempt at political reform, one can probably attribute the defeat of the reform package to a serious lack of sustained and genuine communication between Beijing and the people of Hong Kong.

To make matters worse, the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong failed to seek extensively the views of the various sectors of our society on the reform and tended to listen only to the pro-establishment camp and people like Robert Chow Yung.

As a result, Beijing lost touch with the real public sentiment and aspirations in Hong Kong.

Back in the 1980’s, Beijing was much more receptive to new ideas and values and was willing to incorporate the views of people from both ends of the political spectrum in our society into the principle of “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law.

Now that the reform proposal has been defeated, as we begin to ponder the future of “one country, two systems”, perhaps the central government should re-adopt the open-minded approach taken by its predecessor 30 years ago, so as to restore faith among the public.

It should also build a platform for extensive communication on which we can reflect together on the implementation of “one country, two systems” and explore its future.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 23.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2012-2016) and a founding member of Civic Party

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