23 February 2019
Beijing's ever-tightening grip on Hong Kong adds to the 'one country, two systems' paradox. Photo: Reuters
Beijing's ever-tightening grip on Hong Kong adds to the 'one country, two systems' paradox. Photo: Reuters

The paradox of ‘one country, two systems’

As Beijing and Hong Kong celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, more developments have emerged that prove “one country, two systems” is a paradox that the central authorities are hard pressed to escape.

In the past few days, several so-called China legal experts weighed in on the future of the relationship between the two sides, especially after both suffered a severe rift in terms of Hong Kong’s democratic development with the rejection in 2015 of Beijing’s political roadmap by Hong Kong legislators.

Peking University legal scholar, Rao Geping, said on Sunday that Beijing may have to interfere in Hong Kong affairs if it thinks the local government can’t cope, adding that this is not something that the central government wants to do. He urged Hong Kong people to back “one country, two systems”.

Another legal expert, Wang Zhenmin, the top legal affairs official of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, rejected criticism that the central government is trying to “mainlandize” Hong Kong.

Wang said Beijing has never wanted Hong Kong to become just another Chinese city because that would strip it of its competitiveness.

He stressed that mainland authorities are fully committed to making the “one country, two systems” a success to help maintain Hong Kong’s international edge.

Wang has been outspoken about Hong Kong in recent days, sometimes overshadowing his boss, Zhang Xiaoming, the head of the Liaison Office.

Wang warned Hong Kong that Beijing would not tolerate an independence movement in Hong Kong.

Also, he said that if Hong Kong’s use of the “one country, two systems” principle threatens the country as a whole, Beijing would dispense with it altogether.

Earlier, Wang said Hong Kong must learn to adapt to China, not the other way around.

While these two legal experts may not represent the official stance, their backgrounds hint such a mindset may have dominated the thinking of senior Beijing officials.

That shows Beijing’s policy on Hong Kong has turned hawkish despite hopes to the contrary by some democrats.

In fact, after 20 years of implementation, “one country, two systems” cannot be proven as a successful political experiment to fulfill China’s reunification dream.

The reason for maintaining Hong Kong’s unique system that made it an international financial center is that it would be good for China as a whole.

However, as China is now the world’s No. 2 economy with much global influence, Beijing would like to clamp its own system on Hong Kong to show its strength in solving its Kong issues.

Beijing, of course, continues to benefit from Hong Kong’s open market that has allowed many Chinese firms to go outside their home country to tap global investors.

But from a political perspective, Beijing has no tolerance for Hong Kong’s traditional core values such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press, rule of law and an independent judiciary.

In addition, the rise of a pro-independence mindset in Hong Kong is clearly an example of Beijing’s failure to strike a balance between upholding the two systems under the “one country” umbrella.

Hong Kong people have no desire to seek political independence from China. They just want to keep their own system and see to it that it works now and in the future.

However, Wang is blaming Hong Kong for “insulting” the system. If he is referring to criticism of Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong, it’s no insult. Hong Kong people are simply speaking the truth from their perspective. Beijing can take it or leave it.

From Beijing’s perspective, the best example of “one country, two systems” is Macau which carries out Beijing’s wishes without question.

But Hong Kong is not Macau and it could be difficult to implement Macau’s kind of governance in Hong Kong. Instead, Beijing should have an open mind about what Hong Kong people want in order to make its relationship with Hong Kong easier and more harmonious.

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EJ Insight writer

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