The View From Asia

China, Hong Kong and the future

On the 20th anniversary of the former British colony's handover, Asia News Network newspapers weigh in on its complex relationship with China. Here are excerpts.

Balancing act for Carrie Lam



Chinese President Xi Jinping used a velvet glove at the beginning of his three-day visit to Hong Kong, saying upon arrival last Thursday that he offered good wishes on the 20th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China and the support of the central government to ensure the city's long-term success.

But the iron fist in the velvet glove quickly became visible, and in a major speech delivered before his departure, he warned against crossing the "red line" of Chinese sovereignty or challenging the power of the central government.

In his landmark speech after the inauguration of Mrs Carrie Lam as the new chief executive on Saturday, Mr Xi also indicated willingness to have a dialogue with "anyone who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law, no matter what political views or position he or she may hold". Hours after his departure, a pro-democracy protest was held, as has been the case every year on July 1.

On July 1, 2003, half a million people turned up to protest against a proposed national security law, and the Bill had to be withdrawn.

The new chief executive is under pressure to get similar legislation enacted. Last Saturday, however, according to the police, the pro-democracy turnout was 14,500, the lowest in 14 years.

The difference is largely due to the economy.

In 2003, Hong Kong had gone through the Asian financial crisis, severe acute respiratory syndrome, a plunging property market and high unemployment. The national security Bill acted as a catalyst to bring together a lot of unhappy people in the territory.

Now, the economic situation is totally different. In the first quarter of this year, the Hong Kong economy grew by 4.3 per cent in real terms. The stock market is buoyant and employment is robust.

Not surprisingly, in such an environment, fewer people took to the streets to stage political protests.

While Mr Xi talked about development as the solution to various problems, he did not particularly relate this to youngsters calling for self-determination. Rather, he saw education as the answer, much as Beijing focused on patriotic education after the Tiananmen uprising.

Mr Xi's visit and Mrs Lam's inauguration (as chief executive) provide an opportunity for a new approach during her honeymoon period. But a chief executive by definition occupies an impossible position, owing loyalty both to the central government and to the people of Hong Kong.

Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong last Saturday amid celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the city's handover. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that any challenge to Beijing's control over the city would cross a "red line". Hours after his departure, a pro-democracy protest was held. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In her inaugural address, she promised to "firmly take actions in accordance with the law against any acts that will undermine the country's sovereignty, security and development interests".

However, she was silent on upholding the rights the people enjoyed, saying that society needed to be "united, harmonious and caring".

The Chinese leader may not have wanted to listen to what rights Hong Kong people are supposed to enjoy, including freedom of speech. But if Mrs Lam is to win the trust of the people, she will have to demonstrate that she will uphold their rights with as much zeal as she displays in protecting the central government's interests.

'One country, two systems' rattled by Xi's moves


Visiting Hong Kong for the first time since he took office, Mr Xi said he would definitely ensure that the "one country, two systems" policy continues stably. But his words cannot be taken at face value.

The "one country, two systems" principle calls for the coexistence of the mainland's socialist system and Hong Kong's capitalism within the one nation of China. This principle is stipulated in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, equivalent to a constitutional document. It is problematic, however, that the principle is becoming a dead letter.

Mrs Lam is a pro-Beijing politician rated highly by the Xi administration. In the chief executive election held in March, the Xi administration blatantly lobbied dignitaries of Hong Kong, among others, to vote for Mrs Lam.

Full-scale "universal suffrage", which was set as a goal at the time when Hong Kong was returned to China, has not been realised. China has taken an inert stance towards electoral system reform and tightened its political control.

It also cannot be overlooked that China has been accelerating its moves to deny freedom of speech and the rule of law.

People related to bookstores handling books that are critical of the Chinese Communist Party have gone missing one after another.

In the Hong Kong Legislative Council election last September, lawmakers who advocated - among other things - independence from China were elected, but later lost their qualifications as lawmakers when China intervened.

China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, will shortly make its maiden port call at Hong Kong. This is likely aimed at intimidating anti-Beijing forces and heightening the patriotic sentiments of pro-Beijing elements.

In Hong Kong, people's sense of belonging to China has been withering away. The possibility of another anti-Beijing rally, such as that of 2014, when young people and other residents occupied Hong Kong's centre, cannot be ruled out.

Xi offers workable solutions



The highlight of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was beyond doubt the three-day visit by President Xi. The most noteworthy event during his visit was his speech at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai last Saturday, after the Hong Kong administration led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam was sworn into office.

The speech covered several topics but I believe the central part of his speech was about the implementation of "one country, two systems", specifically his four main points.

Firstly, he referred to the "one country" principle as the roots of a tree which must run deep and strong to hold the tree stable. This reference is clearly in response to the repeated provocation by the opposition to challenge the central government's authority over the HKSAR.

Mr Xi reminded us that we ought to focus on development as the top priority since it holds the golden key to resolving various issues in Hong Kong.

Secondly, Hong Kong people are very proud of their tradition of upholding the rule of law. Yet there is a fair amount of resistance to the promotion of the Basic Law. Efforts to promote the Basic Law have always been defamed as brainwashing by many, especially those in the education sector. To ensure the correct understanding and implementation of the Basic Law, the President said public awareness of the Basic Law, especially among civil servants and young people, should be improved.

Thirdly, as we all can see clearly, almost everything in the HKSAR has been politicised nowadays. Many people are obsessed with partisan attacks and the society seems to be consumed by petty differences. Clearly, this is leading us nowhere. Mr Xi reminded us that we ought to focus on development as the top priority since it holds the golden key to resolving various issues in Hong Kong.

Finally, the central government is willing to lead the way by seeking broad common ground while setting aside major differences. It is ready to communicate with anyone who genuinely supports the principle of "one country, two systems" and the Basic Law of the HKSAR, regardless of their political views or position.

Mr Xi's speech is a timely review of the implementation of the "one country, two systems". Having listened to the speech in full, one has to agree that the state leader has a thorough understanding of the current situation of Hong Kong and has offered us suitable and workable solutions to our problems. I sincerely hope that this would be the beginning of the end of the polarisation of our community.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'China, Hong Kong and the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe