Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, under the strong leadership of President Xi Jinping, the practice of “one country, two systems” (OCTS) in Hong Kong has entered a historical inflection period. During this period, the central authorities acted decisively and effectively, masterly using the powers derived from their comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong, to produce a new political landscape in the city.
They have completely put an end to the political turmoil that has plagued Hong Kong for many years. They have eradicated the internal and external hostile forces that have interfered with and sabotaged the practice of OCTS for a long time. They have perfected the institutions, laws, and measures related to OCTS and ensured the realization of the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. They have laid a solid foundation for good governance and long-term peace and stability in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and created favorable conditions for the “return of Hong Kong people’s hearts and minds”. They have also enabled Hong Kong to accelerate its integration into national development, thus allowing Hong Kong to boost its economy while also contributing to the country’s development. It’s no exaggeration to say, as far as the history of OCTS is concerned, that the decade after the 18th Party Congress represents the critical decade in which the central authorities have succeeded in rectifying the situation in Hong Kong and ensuring that the two core conditions for OCTS are fulfilled. It follows thus that the practice of OCTS in Hong Kong now can be fully and accurately practiced, that it can be carried out steadily and successfully into the long-term future, and that Hong Kong can actively participate in the cause of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Beginning in mid-2019, Hong Kong had been battered by the worst, most destructive and longest-running riots since its return to the motherland. However, these riots have also thoroughly exposed the profound structural impediments that have long hampered the successful implementation of OCTS in Hong Kong. More specifically, these structural impediments were the results of the failure to fulfill the two core conditions essential to the success of OCTS in Hong Kong. The exposure of these impediments in turn engenders ideas and insights about OCTS that could be fruitfully employed to facilitate the comprehensive and accurate implementation of OCTS in Hong Kong in the years ahead.
The major national policy of OCTS formulated by the CPC is very stable, easily understandable, has never changed, and has been highly consistent. The success of OCTS hinges upon the fulfillment of two core conditions. Only after these two core conditions are met can all the strategic objectives of OCTS be achieved. One is that Hong Kong cannot become a threat to national security. In 2017, President Xi Jinping drew three red lines that Hong Kong cannot infringe upon; namely, “Any attempt to endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is absolutely impermissible.”
Second, the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” must be realized. The right and power to govern Hong Kong must be firmly in the hands of the patriots. In an important speech delivered in January 2021, President Xi stressed that the major turning point in Hong Kong’s transition from chaos to effective governance shows a profound truth; that is, to ensure that OCTS can be implemented steadily and sustainably, we must always adhere to the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, as this is a fundamental principle that is closely related to national sovereignty, security, development interests, and Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.
It’s no exaggeration to say, as far as the history of OCTS is concerned, that the decade after the 18th Party Congress represents the critical decade in which the central authorities have succeeded in rectifying the situation in Hong Kong and ensuring that the two core conditions for OCTS are fulfilled
Previous experiences since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland have eloquently proved that to comprehensively and accurately implement OCTS, national security must be strongly safeguarded, and the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” must be fully realized, and the latter is inarguably the key to fundamentally resolving the crisis and chaos in Hong Kong. To suppress violence and control chaos, ensure that Hong Kong is administered by the patriots, and let OCTS be carried out steadily and continuously, the central authorities’ comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong must be fully exercised through laws, policies and measures aimed at effectively resolving the difficulties encountered in the practice of OCTS.
To put the practice of OCTS in Hong Kong back on the right track, the central authorities in the past several years resolutely intervened and harnessed their comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong to put to an end the turmoil in the city. At the end of 2019, the fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC came up with a panoply of interrelated strategies to deal with the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong, the two most important ones being the installation of the necessary legal instruments and the enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security, and ensuring that the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” is fulfilled. The promulgation and implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in mid-2020 immediately gave rise to a huge deterrent force, bringing about the collapse of the anti-China subversive forces in Hong Kong. At the same time, external hostile forces were also tightly contained. Stability, rule of law, and order in Hong Kong have been speedily restored. The threat to national security posed by the subversives in Hong Kong has to a considerable extent been reduced. Public trust and respect for the central authorities have been steadily rebuilt. In 2021, the National People’s Congress decided to authorize its Standing Committee to formulate specific guiding principles and measures to revamp Hong Kong’s electoral system, which would be further concretized and subsequently implemented by the HKSAR government through local legislation. The new electoral system has laid a solid foundation for “patriots administering Hong Kong”. And the newly established Candidate Eligibility Review Committee has assumed the heavy responsibility of ensuring that the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” is ingrained in Hong Kong’s electoral processes. It can be said that the National Security Law and the new electoral system jointly function to safeguard national security and ensure the realization of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. In other words, they have jointly fulfilled for the first time the two core conditions indispensable to the comprehensive and accurate implementation of OCTS since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, laying a solid foundation for the steady and indefinite implementation of OCTS, the long-term peace, prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, effective and good governance in the city, and Hong Kong’s speedy integration into national development.
The developments in Hong Kong over the past decades have clearly shown that the CPC is a staunch defender of OCTS and have also fully demonstrated that as a major national policy, OCTS has clear consistency, tenacious vitality and the ability to self-correct and readjust to cope with new problems, challenges and situations. At the same time, they confirm that only when the central authorities adhere to the OCTS policy without wavering, when the central authorities’ comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong and the high-degree of autonomous powers of the HKSAR government are closely integrated and working in tandem, can the implementation of OCTS in Hong Kong be able to progress and advance in a complex and turbulent international and internal context.
Now that the central authorities have rectified the situation in Hong Kong and established the core conditions for the successful practice of OCTS, the implementation of OCTS is on the right track. The era of protracted and perpetual chaos in the city has come to an end, and the era of good governance, political stability and development has started. We are now seeing a mode of governance underpinned by a political system dominated by the patriots, with the HKSAR government powered by a strong chief executive, bolstered by a cooperative yet demanding Legislative Council, and staunchly supported by the central authorities.
In an environment of political and social stability, the central authorities, the HKSAR government and the patriotic forces can make assiduous and concerted efforts to tackle the deep-seated economic, social and people’s livelihood problems that have tormented Hong Kong for a long time. They have begun to vigorously push ahead with policies and actions to promote “the return of the hearts and minds of Hong Kong residents”, such as national education and patriotic education, in the schools and the community. They are stepping up efforts to accelerate Hong Kong’s participation in the country’s major development strategies, especially the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, the Belt and Road Initiative, the internationalization of the renminbi, the “double circulation” economic development strategy, and the regional economic cooperation groups in which China plays a leading role, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. At the same time, because of the proliferation of development challenges Hong Kong must face in the years ahead, we are also witnessing important and palpable changes in the philosophy of governance of the HKSAR government. The passive-governance thinking of the past, embodied in the doctrine of “positive noninterventionism”, is gradually being jettisoned, to be ultimately replaced by a more-proactive, responsive and responsible concept of governance.
To conclude, under the enterprising leadership of President Xi, with the establishment of the two core conditions for OCTS, its practice has made a historic leap after the 18th CPC National Congress as a result of the establishment of a solid foundation for its long-term success. Therefore, 25 years after the return of the HKSAR to its motherland, President Xi was able to solemnly, confidently, and proudly announce to the whole world this significant decision on OCTS: “Today, I would like to stress again that ‘one country, two systems’ has been tested repeatedly in practice. It serves the fundamental interests of not only Hong Kong and Macao. It is also widely accepted by the international community. There is no reason for us to change such a good policy, and we must adhere to it in the long run.”
The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, 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.