Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series on the far-reaching significance of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the special administrative region’s electoral reforms. The four commentaries will be included in the upcoming new edition of the author’s 16-article book on the “one country, two systems” principle, which was first published in May 2020.
The National People’s Congress adopted, in May 2020, a decision on establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security. In accordance with the NPC decision, its Standing Committee proceeded to promulgate the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which took effect on June 30, 2020.
The central government has emphasized repeatedly the need to improve the system and mechanisms of implementing “one country, two systems” according to the Basic Law as well as the Constitution. The construction and continuous improvement of laws and their enforcement mechanisms are fundamental means to consistently improve the governance of the HKSAR
In March 2021, the NPC passed another decision on improving the electoral system of the HKSAR and authorized its Standing Committee to amend Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law, so that the HKSAR could implement the electoral reform through local legislation. The two statutory milestones have been so effective that they are now widely hailed in Hong Kong as well as around the world as a “winning combo”.
The main challenges facing the HKSAR since its establishment in July 1997 can be summed up by two problems. One was its inability to maintain stability due to constant sabotage by local anti-China subversive forces colluding with hostile external forces, which posed grave threats to national security of the country as well as Hong Kong’s stability. The other was the HKSAR government’s inability to administer the region effectively, mainly because of dogged obstruction by local opposition parties who indiscriminately politicized all major issues and relentlessly filibustered in the Legislative Council. Those problems caused the ultimate damage to Hong Kong during the “black revolution” (June 2019-June 2020), when the black-clad rioters pushed the city to the brink of total chaos if not destruction, leaving the practice of “one country, two systems” all but a complete failure. Since the HKSAR government did not have the political prowess to head off those problems immediately, the central authorities had to take matters into their hands according to the nation’s Constitution and the Basic Law of the HKSAR. Before Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the NPC adopted eight decisions regarding the question of Hong Kong, but only two in the 24 years since its return. That alone says a lot about the political impact of the “winning combo”.
As expected, the National Security Law for Hong Kong ended violent riots in the city immediately, allowing it to restore peace and order; while the improved electoral system has effectively prevented the anti-China subversive forces from infiltrating the governance structure of the HKSAR as they did through the old, flawed electoral system. As a result, the HKSAR government has been able to do its job much more smoothly and effectively.
The “winning combo” is a mechanism to uphold the original intent of “one country, two systems”. When Deng Xiaoping put forward the monumental system arrangement, for Hong Kong after its return to the motherland, he also spelled out some preconditions, the most important of which was that the territorial integrity and the social system of the main body of the country must not change, because “that would end Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability as well.” Another crucial precondition was “patriots administering Hong Kong”, because otherwise “the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong” principle would lose its soul.
The “winning combo” is also an improvement to the mechanism of implementing “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong. The Basic Law leaves two “assignments” for the HKSAR to fulfill. One is Article 23, which requires Hong Kong to complete national security legislation outlawing seven types of acts that endanger national security within Hong Kong’s jurisdiction. The other is the optimization of the local electoral system, through seeking common ground among the public, for achieving universal suffrage ultimately in Hong Kong in accordance with the actual situation and in a gradual manner. Unfortunately, Article 23 had yet to be fulfilled 24 years after Hong Kong’s return; and the old, flawed electoral system afforded anti-China subversive forces the chance to seize the governing power of the HKSAR.
The promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the improvement of its electoral system have restored the HKSAR’s constitutional order under “one country” and complemented the Basic Law in a significant way. That is why the “winning combo” has helped the HKSAR maintain stability and better governance, paving the way for efforts to resolve various deep-rooted structural problems as well as ensuring the smooth and faithful implementation of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.
The “winning combo” highlights governance according to the law in Hong Kong. The central government has emphasized repeatedly the need to improve the system and mechanisms of implementing “one country, two systems” according to the Basic Law as well as the Constitution. The construction and continuous improvement of laws and their enforcement mechanisms are fundamental means to consistently improve the governance of the HKSAR. It is more effective to tackle problems through the designated system and its related enforcement mechanisms than through any other means.
Hong Kong society has long been confused by two myths: One has crippled national awareness by upsetting the relationship between “one country” and “two systems”, in some cases to total disregard of the nation’s sovereignty, national security and development interest; while the other has turned the concept of democracy on its head by advocating Western-style representative democracy with religious-like ardent zest without considering Hong Kong’s constitutional order which sets boundaries for its democratic development. With the “winning combo”, the central authorities have spelled out Hong Kong’s constitutional obligation to safeguard national security, defined the framework for a democratic system consistent with Hong Kong’s reality and helped break Hong Kong society out of the myths.
The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.