President Xi Jinping has spelled out his expectations of Hong Kong. It behooves us to realize his vision for the future under “one country, two systems”. This unprecedented model of governance has withstood the test of time. We now know it can continue indefinitely under the guidance of the central government and the perseverance of Hong Kong.
Against local opposition and foreign forces, the “one country, two systems” model has protected Hong Kong during its recent turbulence. It has proved its worth and viability, said Xi, who delivered his strongest message of support yet while marking the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s 25th anniversary.
Against doubters and malicious critics, the system will continue in the long run or even indefinitely.
The Chinese leader no doubt had Western governments, especially Washington, in mind, when he mounted an eloquent defense of the city’s political system. Originally a creative solution to the impasse during the negotiations between Britain and China over the handover of Hong Kong, it is enshrined in the Basic Law, the founding constitutional document of the SAR.
Now, having reached its halfway mark of “50 years no change” under Article 5 of the Basic Law, Xi has offered the strongest assurance that the governing model “must be adhered to over the long run”. That is the clearest sign yet that Beijing has every intention to preserve and honor its total commitment to the city and its governing model. Of that, there can now be no doubt.
This is a powerful vote of confidence in Hong Kong’s future, a shot in the arm for its residents who have had to suffer through the riots of 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the initial years of the new Hong Kong SAR, the central government had kept the city’s affairs at arm’s length. Direct contacts between officials on both sides had to be approved by Beijing first to avoid any perception of interference with the SAR. Yet, over many years, some malicious local opposition members and their Western supporters used the slightest excuse to cry wolf about interference.
Still, Beijing has almost infinite patience and kept up with the notion of “not mixing river water with well water”. But eventually, because of radicalized local politics and subversive foreign interference, closer cross-boundary cooperation and coordination, even when urgent and clearly in the best interest of Hong Kong, proved difficult.
But in the fast-changing new century, the social and economic reality is that the cross-boundary traffic of goods, services, capital, visitors, relatives, and business and other contacts accelerated immensely as China became, by some measures, the world’s largest economy. That has led to Hong Kong, the Pearl River Delta, and even further inland being further integrated at breakneck speed.
President Xi has made clear in his latest speech that the role of Hong Kong as a gateway to the Chinese mainland and a “bridge” between the nation and the rest of the world would continue. Furthermore, it’s set to expand in coming years as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area becomes one of the world’s great economic engines.
That’s why, according to Xi, the central government fully supports Hong Kong’s open and free business environment and its common law jurisdiction. This is despite profound legal differences between the justice systems on the two sides. And it’s proof that “one country, two systems” works.
Under his guarantees and vision, the president has spelled out what has been called the “four musts” and “four aspirations”, or fundamental conditions and directives respectively, that will secure Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability in the future despite rising challenges in the international scene.
Under the “four musts” list, Hong Kong will be put on the right footing. These mean a comprehensive and accurate understanding of “one country, two systems” for locals, especially among the young; integration of the central government’s comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong with the city’s “high degree of autonomy” under the Basic Law; and the selection of local patriots in charge of, and maintaining, Hong Kong’s unique advantages.
The “four aspirations” aim to build a better future for Hong Kong. These include improving governance and maintaining it at a high level; striving continuously to bolster Hong Kong’s capacity for development and innovation; acting decisively to resolve the people’s livelihood problems; and working together to build harmony and trust.
Two groups of locals have been singled out for special attention. They are the civil servants and policy officers, and young people. The former group will help run the city; the latter will be its future leaders.
In this context, all government departments and policy bureaus must learn to “think outside the box” for innovative ideas and solutions. Middle managers will be especially important as the bridge between the rank and file and top policymakers. They are encouraged to come up with a comprehensive five-year plan of “to-do lists” for their own departments.
Meanwhile, educating children at an early age has been considered one of the most effective ways to nurture patriotism and promote social awareness of the status of the Hong Kong SAR as an inseparable part of the nation. The SAR government needs to start training schoolteachers to enhance their overall qualifications and promote patriotism and pride in their nation.
Youth issues must now be at the top of the government’s agenda, and satisfying their needs and aspirations must be a top government priority. This means addressing youngsters’ concerns systematically and fully in schooling, housing, building careers, and fostering entrepreneurism.
Xi’s vision and guidance can also be understood in the context of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative, both offering Hong Kong unique opportunities. Young Hong Kong people must be made aware of the unique and great opportunities that both economic engines of growth can offer them beyond the confines of the city.
Their future and that of Hong Kong lie forever in the north, with the mainland hinterland.
The author is a veteran journalist covering Chinese mainland and Hong Kong political and social issues.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.