19 March 2019
Hongkongers should watch carefully over the next few months to see whether Beijing can deliver what Zhang Dejiang (left) has promised during his visit. Photo: CNSA
Hongkongers should watch carefully over the next few months to see whether Beijing can deliver what Zhang Dejiang (left) has promised during his visit. Photo: CNSA

Defending the core values of Hong Kong

Last week, National People’s Congress head Zhang Dejiang gave an important speech in which he reflected on how the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping came up with the groundbreaking idea of “one country, two systems” as a politically expedient solution to the status of Hong Kong after the British handed the colony over to China.

Zhang said at a banquet organized by the Hong Kong government that by putting “one country, two systems” into practice, the central government has, to the largest possible extent, preserved the way of life of the citizens of Hong Kong, as well as the unique characteristics and irreplaceable advantages of this city, in such a way that its continued prosperity is guaranteed.

This, he said, is the original aim of “one country, two systems”.

He went on to reassure the people of Hong Kong that Beijing has never forgotten this original aim and is determined to stay the course to make sure “one country, two systems” will continue to work.

I believe the people of Hong Kong should sincerely applaud Zhang’s reassurance, particularly his acknowledgment that people in this city have their own way of life and set of values that are fundamentally different from those of their mainland counterparts, a political reality that must be respected by the central authorities.

In fact, one significant reason why public confidence in “one country, two systems” has continued to decline in Hong Kong is that Beijing’s increasingly aggressive stance toward our city in recent years has aroused widespread suspicion among the public that the central government is deviating from the original aim of “one country, two systems” and that, as a result, the difference between the “two systems” is blurring quickly.

Zhang’s words were a timely clarification of Beijing’s position on “one country, two systems” amid rising skepticism in our city about whether the central authorities will continue to stick to this principle in the days ahead.

And his unprecedented meeting with pan-democratic lawmakers was a further illustration that Beijing is not just paying lip service to upholding “one country, two systems” but has taken the initiative to seek reconciliation and open a dialogue with people in Hong Kong with opposing political viewsg.

Of course, it is entirely up to the people of Hong Kong and the pan-democrats as to whether to buy into what Zhang said.

However, as far as the city’s chief executive, pro-establishment camp and government officials are concerned, Zhang’s words amount to a decree of the supreme leaders, and therefore acting against his will is apparently not an option for them.

I believe that, over the next couple of months, there will be several indicators by which we can tell whether the Hong Kong government and the pro-establishment camp are falling into line on Zhang’s orders or covertly defying his wishes:

First, it will be worthy of note whether Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will cease being confrontational and belligerent when dealing with the opposition in his remaining months in office.

I believe Leung is likely to extend an olive branch to the pan-democrats later this year.

For example, there has already been talk that he may organize a trip to Shenzhen and invite all lawmakers across the political spectrum to join it.

Second, it will also be noteworthy whether the extreme left, the die-hard “patriots” and radical pro-Beijing organizations will start keeping a lower profile over the next few months and stop their saber rattling against pro-democracy protesters.

Since Zhang reiterated on different occasions during his visit that the rule of law is the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s continued prosperity, I believe the radical left will start easing off over the next few months on judges whom they have accused of being too lenient toward pro-democracy protesters and stop making provocative remarks against the judiciary in Hong Kong.

The fact that Beijing is trying to mend fences with the pan-democrats before the Legislative Council election in September is definitely good news for the pro-establishment camp, which has taken the brunt of the immense unpopularity of the current administration over the past few years.

On one hand, it could greatly boost their prospects in the upcoming election.

On the other, Zhang’s push for reconciliation has somewhat put Leung in his place, which may help alleviate the resentment of Leung among some of the pro-establishment heavyweights, thereby enhancing solidarity among the pro-Beijing camp.

Although Zhang’s visit won’t change the tense political atmosphere in Hong Kong overnight, I believe our fellow citizens should at least “pocket” what he has promised first and see whether Beijing can really deliver on its promise over the next several months and bring Leung and the pro-establishment camp into line.

In the meantime, we must also stay vigilant against any attempt, from outside or inside Hong Kong, to undermine our core values, our rule of law and our freedom of expression.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 25.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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