Why HKSAR may become less special after 2047

September 02, 2015 14:05
Once our difference with the rest of China disappears, our independent identity disappears too. Photo: Bloomberg

In recent years more and more people are beginning to forecast the future of Hong Kong after 2047.

While most people try to find answers to this question from a Hong Kong perspective, I find that there might be other possibilities and answers if we look at this question from the angle of international relations.

Back in 1997, most people believed there would be three possibilities regarding the future of Hong Kong 50 years after the handover: 1. “One Country, One System”, 2. Hong Kong becoming independent, and 3. “One Country, Two Systems” would remain.

However, when it comes to the continued existence of “One Country, Two Systems”, we must take into consideration the role of “foreign influence”.

Today both Hong Kong and Macau exist as “special administrative regions” under the People’s Republic of China.

But does that necessarily mean the international community will respect our special identity? Not really.

Take the Sinuiji special administrative region set up by North Korea back in 2002 as an example. It basically mimicked Hong Kong in every way, and it even appointed a Chinese-Dutch businessman named Yang Bin as “chief executive”.

The North Korean government went to great lengths to promote Sinuiji to attract foreign investment such as introducing the separation of powers and low tax rates into the region, and establishing a stock exchange there.

However, all these efforts have proven futile as the Sinuiji SAR failed to gain international recognition totally.

Even Yang Bin himself was arrested, rather dramatically, by the Chinese authorities on tax evasion charges.

So does international recognition really that matter? Let’s take the Hong Kong SAR passport as another example.

A lot more countries have granted visa-free privileges to HKSAR passport holders than to People's Republic of China passport holders because the international community widely regards us as special and different from the rest of mainland China.

On the other hand, Hong Kong is an independent member of many international organizations because we are commonly considered as an independent economic entity and a separate customs territory governed by a totally different system and set of laws compared to China.

Once our difference with the rest of China disappears, our independent identity disappears too.

Is there any sign of the onset of this trend? Probably yes.

For instance, Taiwan has reviewed and changed its conditions and requirements of immigration that apply to Hong Kong citizens, out of its concern over the potential abuse of Hong Kong citizenship by mainlanders.

On the other hand, the United States is likely to stay positive about “One Country, Two Systems” as long as Hong Kong remains a free port and its currency pegged to the dollar. However, once these elements are gone, it is likely that Washington will review its policy on our city too.

Suppose that Hong Kong will fully integrate into China after 2047, will that spell the end of international recognition of “One Country, Two Systems”?

While some are pretty apprehensive about that scenario, some mainland academics are confident that by that time China is likely to become a new superpower, and no country would dare to risk antagonizing China by refusing to recognize the status of Hong Kong.

But that raises another question: if China really becomes that powerful after 2047, will it still have to rely on Hong Kong like it does now?

Isn’t it more in the national interest if Beijing creates some other special administrative regions on its soil that enjoy the same level of international credibility like Hong Kong but are less “troublesome”?

Either way, the HKSAR is likely to become “less special” in the days ahead.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sep. 1.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal