Chinese socialism bedrock of HK’s governance system

Since 1978, China has achieved unprecedented developmental success by adopting the unique strategy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (SWCC). At its center is reform and opening-up, which in turn is based on socialist thinking, China’s realities and sharp analysis of the developmental trends in the world. SWCC is unique because it encompasses a lot of Chinese wisdom derived from China’s rich historical experience. Even though it has reference value to other countries, SWCC can hardly be replicated elsewhere. As far as I can see, the most prominent features of SWCC are self-confidence, optimism, boldness, innovativeness, pragmatism, rationality, ability to grasp opportunity and avoid trouble, flexibility as well as resilience.

As an integral part of SWCC, “one country, two systems” (OCTS) represents a unique arrangement to settle the issue of the future of Hong Kong. As underscored by Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of OCTS, one of the major features of SWCC is the OCTS policy.

In as much as OCTS is a major component of SWCC, OCTS is bound to embody some essential features of SWCC.

In the first place, akin to SWCC, OCTS so far is also a unique institutional arrangement in today’s world. Even though it is not difficult to find diverse political or economic institutions within other nations and societies today and in the past, the coexistence of socialism and capitalism in the same society is exceptional. OCTS definitely is also a pioneering political project in human history. Needless to say, even with OCTS, socialism continues to be the mainstay in China, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s capitalism is only a supplement to Chinese socialism. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s capitalism can only survive and continue to thrive on the foundation of Chinese socialism. Deng believed that Hong Kong’s capitalism not only would not have adverse impact on Chinese socialism, it would contribute to China’s socialist modernization by performing special roles and functions which could not be performed by any mainland city.

Secondly, as a component of SWCC, OCTS embodies another feature of SWCC, i.e., the innovativeness and boldness of the Communist Party of China, which in turn comes from Beijing’s tremendous self-confidence in China’s developmental path. It is particularly amazing that the CPC, which always insists that socialism is the destination of humanity, would allow a small territory in China to continue to practice capitalism. Deng was adamant in pointing out that only the CPC and only SWCC had the self-confidence, audacity and pragmatism to brave all sorts of doubts and misgivings and decide on OCTS as the solution to the issue of Hong Kong’s future. Deng proudly proclaimed, “We are pursuing SWCC; that is the reason why we make the policy of OCTS and allow the coexistence of both systems (socialism and capitalism). This cannot be done without some courage. Our courage comes from the support of the people, people’s support of the socialist system of our country and their support of the Party’s leadership.”

Thirdly, OCTS embodies the rationality and pragmatism of SWCC. All along, the government of the People’s Republic of China has wrestled with the problem of Hong Kong rationally and pragmatically. There is substantive continuity between the CPC’s policy toward Hong Kong before and after Hong Kong’s return to China. Both the policy of “planning on a long-term basis for gaining full benefits” before 1997 and the policy of OCTS after 1997 are sensible policies to serve the vital interests of the country by making the best use of Hong Kong’s unique status and advantages. When the PRC was established in 1949, the decision of Beijing not to take Hong Kong back immediately was based on the cool reckoning of “driving a wedge” between the United Kingdom and the United States with the purpose of alleviating US pressure on China. Subsequently, Hong Kong also served as China’s channel to the outside world and, to a certain degree, helped lessen the brunt of Western blockades and containment. As China decided to take Hong Kong back peacefully in 1997, OCTS, by preserving Hong Kong’s capitalism and lifestyle, was supposed to allow the city to continue to contribute to China’s modernization as a special administrative region.

Fourthly, SWCC emphasizes the precepts of  “give and take” and “win-win”. Beijing fully understood the reluctance of Britain to give up Hong Kong or to cooperate with Beijing during Hong Kong’s transition from a British colony to a special administrative region of China. Beijing also wanted to prevent an exodus of capital and talent from Hong Kong due to the lack of confidence in Hong Kong’s future. Consequently, Beijing had to adopt measures to cater to the interests of all the stakeholders concerned. In essence, OCTS reflects Beijing’s willingness to strike bargains and make compromises with Britain, Hong Kong residents and investors around the world. The resultant “win-win” arrangements have thus made possible simultaneously peaceful reunification with China, the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong, as well as a continued cordial relationship between China and the West. 

Fifthly, China has tremendous self-confidence in SWCC and OCTS. China understands that the uniqueness of both SWCC and OCTS is amenable to their replication in other places. Nevertheless, China still considers both SWCC and OCTS as having reference value to other nations and societies. President Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC, asserted in 2017 that the road, theory, institutions and culture encompassed in SWCC had broadened the path to modernization available to developing countries. SWCC would provide new options for those countries which wanted to accelerate development but at the same time aspired to safeguard their independence. In the same vein, Deng was hopeful that OCTS would provide a successful example of conflict resolution to other countries facing similar historical problems or to countries embroiled in international strife. 

Sixthly, both SWCC and OCTS have demonstrated their ability to self-correct and self-recover, thus attesting to their vitality. They share the basic and inalterable principle of safeguarding national security and interests. Nevertheless, concrete policies and measures can be changed to deal with the challenges from changing times and changing circumstances. Dogmatism and obstinacy have no place in SWCC and OCTS. For instance, in a time of accord between China and the West, the policy of relying on foreign investment, exports and infrastructure building were appropriate. However, China’s fraught relationship with the West today and the dogged attempt of the United States to contain China’s rise have driven China to depend instead on domestic consumption, technological and institutional innovation, as well as enhanced regional economic cooperation as the major engines in the country’s future development. In the case of Hong Kong, the intransigence of the political opposition, foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs, incessant uprisings and turmoil and ineffective governance in the HKSAR have prompted Beijing to enact a national security law for Hong Kong and revamp its electoral institutions to suppress both the local and external hostile forces and restore order and stability in the city, thereby allowing it to regain the ability to develop and deal with its long-neglected, deep-seated economic and social problems. In fact, Deng was able to foresee back in the 1980s the onset of unrest in Hong Kong instigated by local and outside forces after 1997 and had forewarned sternly that, if necessary, Beijing would be forced to actively intervene to restore order in Hong Kong. Today, Hong Kong is going to undertake long-term institutional and policy reforms to propel it to a new era of development.

As OCTS is an important component of SWCC and embodies its essential features, it will definitely continue to be the major national policy of China toward Hong Kong well into the future.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.