As the British rolled out the reddest of red carpets to welcome President Xi Jinping and greeted him with an unprecedented 103-gun salute on his first ever state visit to the country, the local British media humorously commented that after 200 years, the British empire has finally learned how to kowtow to the Celestial Emperor.
In her speech delivered during the state banquet in honour of Xi held at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II praised the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for coming up with the idea of “one country, two systems” and his efforts in facilitating the conclusion of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong.
However, Xi did not mention the joint declaration or “one country, two systems” in his speech, which followed, and only said that the two countries succeeded in resolving the issue of Hong Kong “with creativity” in 1997.
Later the Guardian revealed that during his informal meeting with Xi at his country retreat, Prime Minister David Cameron was “seeking assurances from Xi that the Hong Kong government would remain semi-autonomous and entitled to choose its leadership without prior vetting by the Chinese government”.
Shortly after the report appeared, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement reiterating that the governance of Hong Kong is entirely within the domestic affairs of China and urging London not to interfere with Hong Kong affairs under any circumstances.
It seems Beijing won’t tolerate even the slightest symbolic and token gesture by the British government regarding Hong Kong.
The fact that the British eagerly welcomed Xi with open arms while concerns about democratic progress in Hong Kong took a backseat to bilateral business deals should be enough to convince those Hongkongers still waving the colonial flag and insisting that the joint declaration remains in force to give up their illusion that Britain still has a role to play in our fight for democracy.
It is very likely that Britain will only echo Beijing’s stance in the days ahead when it comes to the democratization of Hong Kong.
That is perhaps the first insight we can draw from Xi’s visit to Britain.
The fact that the British performed the 21st-century equivalent of the kowtow, laying on the pomp, circumstance and flattery to please China’s leader so as to get business contracts worth billions of dollars and only brought up the Hong Kong issue briefly when the deals were sealed also provides another insight for us into how we can fight for more democracy without jeopardizing our relationship with Beijing.
Simply put, any direct confrontation with Beijing, like the Occupy movement, would only provoke a backlash and further suspicions, resulting in an even tougher stance toward our city.
However, if Hong Kong can prove itself to be an indispensable partner to Beijing in its realization of the “China dream” and deliver its real value as an irreplaceable financial hub on Chinese soil, that might give us more bargaining chips in our quest for democracy than any mass movement.
This is perhaps the second insight we can draw from Xi’s visit to Britain.
Hong Kong remains the only city in China that is governed by the same legal system as that in most of the western world, and we are the only city on Chinese soil where the rule of law and judicial independence are truly practiced and guaranteed.
These are the elements that make our city unique and irreplaceable.
Once these elements are gone, so is our unique status, and by that time we will become just another mainland city.
During his visit to Britain, Xi signed several major business deals, among them the so-called London-Hong Kong Connect scheme, under which the Hong Kong Futures Exchange will establish a trading link with the London Metal Exchange.
The reason why we are once again chosen as the bridge linking China and the outside world can’t be clearer: we are the only city throughout China that can comply with the international legal framework that governs global financial activities.
Therefore, the most urgent task before us is not to push for democracy, but to defend our rule of law and judicial independence, which are hanging by a thread right now amid calls by former mainland officials for “decolonization” and the pro vice chancellor appointment scandal at the University of Hong Kong.
The rule of law and judicial independence form the cornerstone on which our city’s prosperity is built.
They are the crown jewels of Hong Kong, without which we will lose our unique status and can no longer be a valuable player in the realization of the “China dream”, thereby losing our position of strength in seeking more democracy from Beijing.
This is perhaps the biggest insight we can draw from Xi’s visit to London.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 29.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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