23 October 2016
Hongkongers must now think about the territory's political future when “one country, two systems” officially expires in just 32 years. Photo: Bloomberg
Hongkongers must now think about the territory's political future when “one country, two systems” officially expires in just 32 years. Photo: Bloomberg

2047 is more imminent than you think

Demographically, the definition of generation time is the average age of all women in a society when they give birth to their first baby girl. In a post-industrialized economy like Hong Kong where females are better educated and get married later, the generation time is around 30 years.

Thus, we can conclude that Hong Kong is now merely a generation away from the expiry of “one country, two systems”, as the yet-to-be-born Hong Kong females, those that will arrive in a year or two, may give birth to their own baby girl in or around 2047.

The current generation of Hongkongers, myself included, used to talk about the impending doom of 1997. But thanks to the global order and China’s far less clout as a fledgling economy back then, 1997 didn’t turn out to be the end of Hong Kong.

It was something of a miracle that since Beijing had to win the hearts and minds of the Hongkongers, the initial years following the handover saw the continuity of our rights and freedoms, and in some aspects the situation then was even more liberal than that of the colonial times.

It must be pointed out that it is our being Hongkongers — proud claimers of our own rights — and not the leniency of Beijing or the SAR government that has ensured such liberty and freedom. In other words, the doom of 1997 has been postponed to 2047.

Now, given that China has long risen from a sickman of East Asia to a global autocracy, a superpower that believes might is right, can we, with nothing but our own mettle and perseverance, sustain the miracle beyond 2047 for our future generations?

To many, it is a question too distant. But I’ve already heard lively discussions by our young people during last year’s Occupy Movement. It is a question that will define how their life will be.

To much older people like us who are unlikely to be around or even live past 2047, it is a question that we seldom give much thought to. Our usual rhetoric when it comes to the future is something like “Hope I can see genuine democracy during my lifetime”.

So there is a wide generation gap.

The old-line pan-democrats want everything to start all over again for constitutional reform after they voted down the bill, but youngsters want to focus on things that transcend the discussion about how future chief executives should be selected.

In an op-ed, Joshua Wong Chi-fung said the most crucial question about Hong Kong’s future does not lie in constitutional reform. What he cares most is “What’s next after the 50-year promise of keeping the city’s capitalist system and way of life unchanged?”

Wong’s proposal is that Hongkongers must fight for a referendum in 2030 or so to determine the territory’s political destiny, and thus, the local democratic movement must not be fettered by electoral debates, but rather, focus should be shifted to shielding Hong Kong from being overridden by Beijing with the merger of two systems into one after 2047.

There’s no denying that the picture looks anything but rosy. Some think such a plebiscite is just unrealistic given how Hongkongers have been snubbed on our common demand for civil nomination.

It’s a sink or swim situation. Think about the worst-case scenario if we leave things to chance: The SAR government turns to the Chinese legislature for a reinterpretation of the Basic Law, the clause of no change for 50 years will be replaced by a new one that allows changes after 2047, and then the National People’s Congress can annul the Basic Law and declare that the Chinese constitution is applicable to the territory. What can Hongkongers do by then?

My advice to the pan-democrats is that, just like backward induction, they must figure out what we should prepare for 2047 as the ultimate goal and from there we go back all the way to 2015 to decide what must be done today.

I suggest all senior members to spare some time to read Wong’s column.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 29.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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