Since Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the central government has taken every conceivable effort to strengthen its rule over the former British colony.
A look at the developments in the year about to pass will only show the further erosion of the territory’s autonomy, despite Beijing’s much-vaunted “one country, two systems” policy.
One needs not look too far behind for instances of incursion into Hong Kong’s autonomy. The latest example is the co-location scheme for the Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong Express Rail Link, and another is the format of the chief executive’s annual duty visit to Beijing.
The immigration check arrangement for the high-speed rail service between Hong Kong and China, as critics have pointed out, is a clear violation of the Basic Law, which states that no Chinese official should exercise their authority in the SAR.
It is very likely that the arrangement is already a fait accompli. A local newspaper reported on Monday that the Futian station of the rail link canceled a proposed immigration checkpoint at the station and decided that it would just serve as a fare checkpoint.
The newspaper also found that other mainland stations of the rail link — Shenzhen North, Humen and Guangzhou South — also have no immigration checkpoints.
This implies that both Hong Kong and the central authorities had decided to implement the co-location arrangement as early as during the planning stage of the rail project.
If that is true, how come the Hong Kong government continues to tell us that the SAR is still in talks with the central authorities about the co-location arrangement? Why can’t Leung Chun-ying and his officials just say it straight to the people that it is a done deal?
Meanwhile, officials are trying their best to tell us that the co-location scheme will not mean any loss to our autonomy as it is also being implemented in other regions such as Europe and North America. True, but as the pan-democrats have explained, Hong Kong, unlike those regions, has a Basic Law to guide its relations with mainland China.
No matter how much authorities belabor the argument that the co-location scheme is merely a convenient administrative arrangement, the fact that it will allow mainland immigration officials to exercise their authority in the territory is clearly a violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
What is emerging from all the discussion is that Hong Kong officials have been hiding the issue over the past few years, hoping that the construction of the rail link will make any opposition to the co-location arrangement moot and academic, forcing Hong Kong people to just grin and accept it.
As it is now turning out, the high-speed rail project is part of the grand design to bring Hong Kong under the complete control of Beijing. And despite the central authorities’ pledge to respect and promote the provisions of the Basic Law, their actions are meant to diminish the document’s relevance and authority in Hong Kong.
If the co-location arrangement aims to show that mainland China can exercise its authority in Hong Kong, the format of the chief executive’s duty visit to Beijing last week is a symbol that Hong Kong is under the rule of China.
Beijing wants us to remember that there is no equal status between Hong Kong and China. China is the ruler, and Hong Kong is the one ruled.
This reality is made all the more obvious in the seating arrangement when our chief executive, CY Leung, met President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang as part of Leung’s annual visit.
Unlike before when Leung and his bosses sat side by side as when top Chinese leaders meet with heads of state, the arrangement was such that Leung sat in the corner of the conference table while the leaders occupied the head of the table.
Such a seating arrangement is but one more evidence that Beijing is bent on showing us that Hong Kong is not unique, compared with other administrative regions and cities in China.
Beijing wants to remind us that we are under China’s sovereignty, that the extent of our autonomy is dependent on what it cares to grant us, and not on what the Basic Law says.
Isn’t that the meat of the white paper on Beijing’s implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle?
Hong Kong people understand the importance of upholding the two systems as it allows the city to uphold its core values such as freedom of expression, rule of law and judicial independence.
Those values are dear to us because they are the bedrock of our success in the past hundred years during the British rule, and we need to promote those values in order to contribute to China’s growth.
But now, Beijing’s main goal is to attain “full resumption of power” in Hong Kong 18 years after regaining sovereignty over the territory. It wants Hong Kong people to affirm their Chinese identity, rather than insisting on being Hongkongers.
China is now the world’s second-largest power and President Xi Jinping is bent on changing the rules of the game.
From that perspective, Beijing may believe that the “two systems” principle is no longer valid, and Hong Kong should adapt to the changes brought about by the new game plan.
In 2016, it is expected that Beijing will continue to consolidate its political influence in Hong Kong, both publicly and behind the scenes.
So forget about one country, two systems. It’s now one country, one system.
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