Despite the threat of COVID-19 and Typhoon Chaba, President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan showed their special regard for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by making their first trip outside the mainland since the outbreak of the global pandemic to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.
The president began his speech by addressing the people in Hong Kong as “fellow compatriots” and offered his compliments. He then briefly addressed China’s history, from the Opium Wars of the 19th century and China’s century of struggle to the establishment of the SAR in 1997.
Xi’s heartfelt speech was informative and encouraging.
I was particularly moved by the phrases “through thick and thin” and “bound by blood” when speaking about Hong Kong and its close ties with the rest of our country. He spoke of Hong Kong’s significant contributions to China’s miraculous economic and social developments, and its advantageous position for it to continue making such contributions to the country’s future prosperity.
In addition, there was more in President Xi’s points about Hong Kong’s strategic importance to China. Hong Kong has always been a bridge, a gateway to the Chinese mainland. It is deemed a window onto the motherland and, recently, was described as a “superconnector” between the mainland and the rest of the world. Whatever the description, we are definitely the most open and internationally oriented among the 600-plus cities throughout the nation. Hong Kong’s advantages and contributions to China, and its potential for future development, cannot be overlooked.
He (President Xi) recalled the city’s transition from chaos to governance and observed how it is now headed toward prosperity. He also added that the next five years will be crucial for Hong Kong to “break new ground” and “take a leap”; this was a message to both the Hong Kong government and local residents, suggesting that it will be a joint effort
President Xi also spoke of challenges. But then he pointed out that even though China and Hong Kong have long been wrought by challenges, they have only strengthened our shared resolve. As a medical professional, I was excited to receive President Xi’s praise of our city’s healthcare system. He noted that, despite the challenges of the international financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and violent social unrest, Hong Kong has still been able to achieve its goals without much hindrance.
The president admonished the SAR’s governance system and implored us to respect and protect the principle of “one country, two systems” stipulated in the Basic Law. He spoke at length about Hong Kong’s constitutional principles, which serve to benefit the fundamental interests of Hong Kong residents, the whole of the Chinese people, the nation, and the international community. The principle of “one country, two systems”, therefore, does not need to be revised in any way. The crux of this point was not just addressed to the people of Hong Kong, I believe that our compatriots on the mainland and Taiwan were also included. President Xi also addressed the world.
Since the National Security Law for Hong Kong was enacted in June 2020, Hong Kong has needlessly come under criticism from some Western countries. Even after the successful implementation of the improved electoral system, hostile Western countries have been relentless in criticizing Hong Kong for the so-called “failure to uphold the principle of ‘one country, two systems’”, a claim that is utterly unfounded and is apparently used to smear China in their narrative that serves their new geopolitical agenda.
In 1984, Deng Xiaoping espoused the idea of “one country, two systems” as a means of guaranteeing that Hong Kong would remain unchanged 50 years after China resumed the exercise of sovereignty in 1997. Furthermore, President Xi, in the report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, highlighted the principle as one of the 14 “building blocks” of the country’s governance.
Just over a month ago, Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, unequivocally stated that 50 years was not actually a definitive period of time, but rather a “concept”.
It may be worthwhile to note a very practical and obvious example. Since 1997, all land leases granted by the government are for terms of 50 years. This means that the leases granted in 2000 will run through to 2050, not 2047. In other words, 2047 is not the deadline.
President Xi stated the relationship between the executive, legislative, and judiciary. This point was crucial, as many of our youths have been misled into believing that they are carbon copies of Western cities or countries.
Of course Hong Kong is unique. It is anything but just another Chinese city as it has a high degree of autonomy granted by the central authority. Neither is it a sovereign country. Therefore, President Xi stressed that although Hong Kong is led by its executive, both the executive and legislative branches are still expected to have between them checks and balances with one another, and to work in tandem.
As for the judiciary, it is important that its processes remain independent.
We should also bear in mind that Hong Kong is the only Chinese city that, one, adopts the common law system; and two, appoints foreign judges onto its benches. Both point to our uniqueness and advantages for the conduct of international trade and finance.
President Xi made a strong statement that Hong Kong must not be absent from China’s future development as it has never been absent in the past. He recalled the city’s transition from chaos to governance and observed how it is now headed toward prosperity. He also added that the next five years will be crucial for Hong Kong to “break new ground” and “take a leap”; this was a message to both the city government and local residents, suggesting that it will be a joint effort.
And finally, President Xi talked about his “four proposals” for Hong Kong. The first proposal is to improve the level of governance. The second is for Hong Kong to fully immerse itself in China’s future developments, which include the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development, and the Belt and Road Initiative.
In return, Hong Kong’s own economic ambitions are fully supported by central authorities. This includes the city’s pillar industries, such as financial services, tourism, trade and logistics, etc. All these need to innovate so as to optimize economic benefits for Hong Kong.
The third proposal is to improve the well-being of local residents by providing more job opportunities, better housing, better education, and better care for senior citizens.
The fourth and final proposal is for all Hong Kong residents to seek common ground with one another and look past the social disputes and differences, some of which surfaced during the 2019 anti-government violent protests.
During this tumultuous period, over 10,000 people were arrested, some 40 percent of whom were students. This means we need to better educate Hong Kong youth on the meaning of community, and to learn about the country and what it means to be Chinese so that we can bridge the emotional gap between our youth and our government.
President Xi strongly believes there is a shared future for the city as a special administrative region and its young citizens so both can move forward together.
Finally, to bookend Xi’s key phrases, “through thick and thin” and “bound by blood”, I shall end my observations by looking at Hong Kong’s future and its integral role in China’s development. Our small, robust and resilient city has experienced its fair share of ups and downs. Now that Beijing has affirmed its support, I am excited to see the positive changes awaiting Hong Kong and the motherland as a whole and am confident that in the process, the city will remain fully involved at all times.
The author is president of think tank, Wisdom Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.