Local businesspeople and the global community should help defend the integrity of the “one country, two systems” model for Hong Kong, as it will ensure the development and reform of China, and its markets, said Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former chief secretary of both the last British colonial government of Hong Kong and the first special administrative region government.
“As much as it is in the interest of Hong Kong to see the success of ‘one country, two systems,’ it is in the interest of the British, the Americans and the Europeans, too,” said Chan in an interview.
“Don’t forget that at the time when the joint declaration was signed in 1984, it was to the wide acclaim of the international community. It remains as true today as it was 20 years ago that the West continues to have faith in the implementation of ‘one country, two systems.’
“Unfortunately, money talks louder today. China has plenty of money. But I would point out that business can be done with China without any country compromising or giving way on its own values. It’s not as if the two are mutually exclusive.”
In the late evening of June 30, 1997, Chan sat at the center of the stage at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, wearing a red dress, to witness the ceremony of Hong Kong’s handover from the British to the Chinese.
She has also witnessed the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ – the framework originally proposed by late leader Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s as a lure for reunification with Taiwan – in Hong Kong over the past two decades.
Independence of judiciary at risk
In the early years after the handover, Chan said the central government and its Liaison Office in Hong Kong (known as Xinhua Agency before 2002) neither intervened in the governance of the city nor implementation of “one country, two systems,” “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and “a high degree of autonomy.”
These three phrases are often used to assure the citizens of Hong Kong that their way of life would not change.
However, she noted that since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in 2012, the central government has increasingly intervened in the governance of Hong Kong and tightened the scope of the basic rights for Hong Kong citizens, such as freedom of assembly and expression, and academic freedom.
She said the independence of the judiciary was also a concern for Hong Kong people after the Information Office of the State Council issued a white paper in June 2014 suggesting that since the judiciary was part of the governing body, it should serve China’s national security needs.
Five interpretations of the Basic Law in two decades by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress had also undermined Hong Kong’s rule of law, Chan said.
Difference in view with US Consul General
On June 13, this year, Chan issued a rare statement expressing a difference in view with Kurt Tong, US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau, who had said in an interview with the South China Morning Post that the “one country, two systems” model is working well, and Hong Kong should build on its success rather than question it.
The success of “one country, two systems” cannot be measured on the basis of trade and economic factors alone, Chan responded in her statement.
“It must also encompass fulfilment of the aspirations of Hong Kong people for the preservation of the values and civil liberties the concept is supposed to guarantee.”
Chan urged Tong to give a truly balanced assessment when he reports back to Washington on the current situation in Hong Kong.
She suggested he give reference to “the deep frustration, felt particularly by young people, at the failure of Beijing to deliver on the promise of genuine universal suffrage for election of the city’s Chief Executive and all members of our legislature, the constant interference by the central government’s Liaison Office in the day-to-day administration of the city, in blatant breach of Article 22 of the Basic Law, and the scandalous way in which the retention of the functional constituency rotten boroughs in the Legislative Council repeatedly enable the will of the majority of the city’s voters to be thwarted by the vested interests of a few.”
Speaking with Asia Times, Chan also criticized local businesspeople, who have benefited from conditions in Hong Kong for many years, for readily acquiescing to the Liaison Office’s interventions in the city’s governance.
“They keep their heads below the parapet. They think the best thing for them in terms of protecting their vested interests is to keep on the good side of the Liaison Office and Beijing,” Chan said.
Chan argued that the business community should not forget that Liaison Office intervention will eventually undermine the business environment in the city, adding that the disappearance of the five Causeway Bay bookstore owners and staff in late 2015 already signaled a deterioration in Hong Kong’s core values.
Businesspeople have a responsibility to safeguard “one country, two systems” and Hong Kong people’s way of life, she said.
She praised James Tien Pei-chun, former chairman and leader of the Liberal Party, for taking the lead in standing up and speaking out.
Earlier this year, on March 26, Tien was joined by dozens of Hong Kong businessmen who cast their votes for John Tsang Chun-wah, the former financial secretary, in the chief executive election. It was no secret that Beijing had directed the majority of the 1,200 Election Committee members to support its preferred candidate, former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who prevailed in the election and will take office on July 1.
Contributing via soft infrastructure and expertize
Chan expressed hope that Lam will be able to put Hong Kong back on the “one country, two systems” track without further Liaison Office intervention. This would enable the financial hub to continue to contribute, via its soft infrastructure, to its motherland.
“In 1997, Hong Kong contributed 80% of China’s GDP. Today, that figure has fallen to 3%. But our contribution to our motherland is not just in terms of GDP,” she said. “Even today, 20 years after the handover, our greatest value to China is that we are an open, market-oriented economy.
“When the ‘one country, two systems’ model was first crafted by Deng Xiaoping, he actually made a remark that China needs several Hong Kongs. I think that remains true today in the 21st century.
“Today, the role we play is as a super connector between China and the rest of the world, particularly Southeast Asia,” she said. “That role is going to become more important as China embarks on its very ambitious infrastructural programs known as the Belt and Road.”
Chan said Hong Kong’s accounting and legal professionals would continue to help China rise to international standards, and the country can also benefit from Hong Kong’s anti-graft experience.
She added that if China has the confidence to give Hong Kong people universal suffrage, the city’s experience could be used in the introduction of further democratic reform in China.
“This is a unique contribution that Hong Kong makes, which, at least for the foreseeable future, unless we give up on our strengths, cannot be replaced or taken over by any Chinese city and province because they don’t have the soft infrastructure.”