16 September 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping bows before delivering his speech at the opening of the 19th national congress of the Communist Party at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping bows before delivering his speech at the opening of the 19th national congress of the Communist Party at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

China’s leader signals end to One Country, Two Systems

While proclaiming the successful implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong, and promising to uphold the “high degree of autonomy” in the administrative region, President Xi Jinping made it clear the the central government will maintain a “firm grasp” on the full powers of governance it has been given by the Basic Law and national legislation over the territory.

Speaking as general secretary of the Communist Party at the opening of its 19th national congress in Beijing on Wednesday, Xi said: “The safeguarding of the central leadership’s comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong and Macau, and that of the special administrative regions’ high degree of autonomy must be combined in an organic manner.”

He said the central government will work to strengthen cooperation between the administrative regions and the mainland.

Over the years, we have seen that Macau has become a role model for China in the implementation of the One Country, Two Systems. So the focus now is on Hong Kong.

The question is, how can Hong Kong maintain its high degree of autonomy while Beijing continues to tighten its grip on every aspect of life in the city?

How can our city maintain its uniqueness – its treasured values of the rule of law, freedom of expression and assembly, and judicial independence – while the central government insists on integrating us into the mainland?

From an economic perspective, it looks like a good idea for Hong Kong to have closer ties with China with the removal of barriers to doing business in the mainland, and foreign investors would want to set up office in Hong Kong where they can enjoy the benefits of a free-market economy while tapping the country’s huge market potentials.

In fact, that’s the reason why Beijing is pushing for Hong Kong’s deeper integration into the mainland.

In his speech, Xi ordered the party to work for Hong Kong and Macau to be integrated into the nation’s macro development plans, and this means we will have important roles to play in such programs as the Greater Bay Area development, which aims to increase cooperation in the Pearl River Delta. 

As a result of these initiatives, it will be easier for the people of Hong Kong and Macau to live, work and do business in the mainland.

And that is precisely Beijing’s aim, which is to turn Hong Kong into an integral part of China like other mainland cities and regions.

Several months ago, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party, urged people in Hong Kong to live and work in Guangdong province where they can enjoy the benefits of being Chinese citizens, including social welfare.

That’s also the reason why the Hong Kong SAR government is in a hurry to push the co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link. The rail system is set to start commercial operation in the third quarter of next year, regardless of the opposition from pan-democrats who have voiced concern about the arrangement breaching the Basic Law.

The cross-border rail system is an important step, and part and parcel of the plan to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. That is why the Express Rail Link’s co-location scheme is on top of the Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s agenda.

In his work report, Xi also warned that he will not allow separatist sentiments to take root in Hong Kong, and vowed to “foster greater patriotism and a stronger sense of national identity” among the people. It is clear that the Chinese leader wants to introduce patriotic education in the territory. 

Xi said Beijing will support the leaders of both Hong Kong and Macau as they govern according to the law and exercise the constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty.

He stressed that leaders and officials of Hong Kong and Macau should be people who love the country.

Simply put, Xi is asking the Hong Kong SAR government to implement the party’s policies. And if one reviews Lam’s maiden policy address last week, it will be crystal-clear that she is strictly following Xi’s wishes.

This is evident in her plans and programs, such as pushing for cross-border integration and the co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link, introducing national education, including the study of Chinese history, to promote patriotism among the youth, and reserving the right to disqualify people from public offices to prevent the spread of separatist sentiments. All these initiatives are in lockstep with Xi’s direction, and they are likely to form part of the laws of Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the opposition faces a tough time figuring out how they would position themselves under Xi’s policy framework. With the government’s threat to disqualify or jail more people from their ranks, they could just wake up one day and find they have been decimated.

Xi has promised to uphold the One Country, Two Systems. But in reality, the essence of “two systems” has been fulfilled with Hong Kong’s return to China over the past two decades. For Beijing, it’s now time to focus on “one country” to unleash Hong Kong’s potential under the Communist Party’s rule.

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EJ Insight writer