HONG KONG - Hong Kong's freedoms can continue past 2047 and be guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" principle Beijing uses to govern the territory if people fully respect it, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in what is believed to be the first such detailed statement on this topic.
The city's leader on Thursday (Jan 16) made the point that as long as the principle is fully understood and implemented, especially by the younger generation, there is "sufficient ground" for people to believe that Hong Kong can continue to have a high degree of autonomy beyond 2047 as provided for under the principle.
Under the "one country, two systems" principle, Beijing promised that Hong Kong will retain its free market way of life and its existing legal, political and financial systems for 50 years from when the British handed the city back to China in 1997. This principle is enshrined under Article 5 of the Basic Law - the city's mini Constitution - and China is under no obligation to uphold it once it expires.
"As long as we uphold, fully understand and implement the 'one country, two systems' principle, there are adequate reasons to believe that the arrangement will move ahead smoothly and there would be no change after 2047," Mrs Lam told lawmakers during her first question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council.
Her response followed remarks by pro-democracy lawmaker Ann Chiang, who is from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, who said young people were worried that the Basic Law would only protect the existing system and way of life in the city until 2047.
"I want to tell the young people, who were mostly born after the handover, to treasure 'one country, two systems'… instead of bringing damage to this important system due to misunderstanding.
"Otherwise, they will be creating the situation that they are in fact worried about today," Mrs Lam said.
She added that if everyone treasured the principle then no one should "worry" about it extending beyond 2047.
Hong Kong has been gripped by more than seven months of protests, sparked by a move by Mrs Lam to introduce an extradition law which has now been scrapped. Many were concerned that suspects could be sent to the mainland for unfair trials with no human rights protection, despite the government's assurances about safeguards in place.
To help heal the rifts in society, Mrs Lam said on Thursday she hoped to announce next month the setting up of an Independent Review Committee, made up of social leaders and academics, to look into the causes of the unrest in the city.
The moves to form the committee have hit a snag as people are reluctant to join it due to fears of personal attacks and doxxing.
The legislative session on Thursday was again marred by shouting of slogans and expulsions of lawmakers, reminiscent of the chaos in November when Mrs Lam tried to deliver her policy address.
On multiple occasions, security officials dragged pro-democracy lawmakers from the chamber because they were shouting and carrying demeaning placards, including one that portrayed Mrs Lam as a vampire.
In total, 13 lawmakers, many from the pan-democracy camp and a pro-Beijing unionist, were expelled during the question and answer session, mostly for shouting from their seats.