What next for Hong Kong?

August 22, 2019 17:41
People gather at Victoria Park for a mass demonstration in Hong Kong on Aug. 18. Given the tense political and social atmosphere, rebuilding trust in the government won’t be easy. Photo: Bloomberg

Following Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the "one country, two systems” experiment has largely proven to be a failure when it comes to constitutional development of the special administrative region. Beijing's excessive interference in the territory's affairs is to blame.

In the past 22 years, all that Hong Kong's top leaders did was mostly play the yes-man act to Beijing rather than truly listen to the voices of local people.

In the meantime, the so-called “831 framework” -- the decisions announced on Aug. 31, 2014 by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in relation to the selection of the Chief Executive and on the arrangement for Legislative Council members -- has denied universal suffrage for both the Legco and chief executive elections.

Universal suffrage in the Legco has become a burst bubble and the election system for the chief executive has not had much change. As a result, Hong Kong's constitutional reform has effectively ground to a complete halt.

There is a view that “two systems” must never override “one country”, and hence Beijing is fully justified in having the final word on Hong Kong affairs.

But the people embracing this view seem to be overlooking the negative fallout.

The relentless interference and behind-the-scene maneuvering by Beijing -- through entities such as its Liaison Office in Hong Kong, the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Hong Kong Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- will only further alienate the people of Hong Kong.

If authorities maintain this unpopular status quo, Hong Kong could not only lose its status as an international metropolis, it could also, in the long run, present a big governance problem to Beijing itself.

Coming to the present situation, unless steps are taken to resolve Hong Kong people's concerns and bring an end to their mass demonstrations and protests, society will become even more fractured. If the present situation continues for long, rebuilding public confidence in the government and the police will become much harder.

Given the tense political atmosphere, there is the danger that a tiny spark of public resentment could ignite a sweeping firestorm of anti-government upheavals, something that we have already witnessed in the past two months.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor