Some Western politicians have launched into a tirade about how Hong Kong suffered a setback in democratic development following the revamp of its electoral system. They accused Beijing of reneging on its promise of facilitating democratic progress in Hong Kong, citing the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
But the facts say otherwise. Experts on Hong Kong issues have pointed out that “democracy” and “universal suffrage” are nonexistent in the Joint Declaration, whose sole purpose is to facilitate the return of Hong Kong to China, rather than dictating how democracy shall be implemented in Hong Kong. Therefore, the city’s political system and electoral mechanism after the reunification are purely China’s internal affairs and are not Britain’s “concern”. Besides, there was not even a modicum of democracy in the “Hong Kong Letters Patent” and “Hong Kong Royal Instructions”, the documents that formed the foundation of British rule in Hong Kong. The notion of a “democracy promise” in the Joint Declaration is an outright fabrication.
Over the one and a half centuries of British rule in Hong Kong, Great Britain had the prerogative of appointing all the governors for Hong Kong, who took the helm of both the executive and legislative branches of the government and concurrently served as the commander-in-chief of the British garrison in Hong Kong. Alexander Grantham, the 22nd governor, even noted in his memoir that the status of the governor was second only to God in this colonial territory. Once the British government realized handing Hong Kong back to its motherland was inevitable, it embarked on sweeping democratic initiatives in the city which, unfortunately, were intended to groom political proxies to maintain its influence in the post-handover Hong Kong.
At a recent briefing session held by the State Council Information Office, an expert accorded an accurate interpretation of the white paper on “Hong Kong: Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”, going right to the heart of the matter when he asserted that the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government, and the entire Chinese population, including the 7.5 million Hong Kong compatriots, own 100 percent of the intellectual property rights of the Hong Kong model of democracy. Indeed, the “one country, two systems” principle embodies the greatest extent of democracy ever practiced in Hong Kong. The Basic Law, which marks the real start of democracy in the city, spells out the precepts of “one country, two systems”, “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy. The white paper gives a clear account of the origination and process of Hong Kong’s democracy, its initiators, promoters, restorers and defender, as well as those parties who are determined to sabotage the city’s democratic development. It has dealt a blow to those who have been slinging mud at Beijing and the HKSAR government over Hong Kong’s democratic development.
During the briefing session, Professor Wang Zhenmin, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, gave a cogent explanation on the relationship between “one country, two systems” and “democracy for Hong Kong”. The title of the white paper, “Hong Kong: Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”, clearly shows that “one country, two systems” is the prerequisite and fundamental guarantee for Hong Kong’s democratic development. The word “under” denotes that democracy is out of the question if it is not based on the premise of “one country”.
Wang’s remarks hit the nail on the head on the nature of Hong Kong’s election. Over the years, democracy for Hong Kong has been misrepresented by some people who juxtaposed the city’s democratic system with the one practiced by some Western countries, without paying regard to the fact that Hong Kong is part of China and that Hong Kong’s electoral process is a local election in nature.
The democracy model under “one country, two systems” does not narrow down the room for democratic elements; rather, it embraces openness and political inclusiveness. In Hong Kong, individuals of foreign nationalities enjoy the right to vote in and stand for elections, a unique feature that has no equal in other parts of the world. Chinese citizens in Hong Kong enjoy the rights of administering Hong Kong and participating in national governance. Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress and Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are the representatives who participate in national governance on behalf of the HKSAR.
The quality of a democracy model hinges on whether it fits into the actual conditions of the society and its ability to resolve the problems confronting its people. Observing “one country, two systems” means neither the Western capitalist democracy model nor the socialist democracy practiced on the Chinese mainland fits the actualities of Hong Kong. The model befitting Hong Kong should not only uphold “one country” but also put to full play the advantage of “two systems”, and it is “democracy with Hong Kong characteristics”.
The revamped electoral system has methodically put “patriots administering Hong Kong” into practice, with candidate focusing on improving the economy and people’s livelihoods as well as other issues of public concern. The chaos and anarchy that prevailed in Hong Kong in recent years have finally met their fate, and subversives are now deprived of any chance to hold the interests of the majority hostage for political ransom. The significant improvement in Hong Kong’s political ecology has unquestionably vindicated the new electoral system.
The white paper points out the direction of Hong Kong’s democratic development, with the ultimate goal of achieving “dual universal suffrage” within the framework of the Basic Law remaining unchanged. Instead of making a detour, the new electoral arrangement comes as a timely measure to get Hong Kong back on track.
The white paper has set the record straight and clarified the myths surrounding Hong Kong’s democratic development. As Hong Kong residents acquire a deeper understanding of the HKSAR’s democratic development through the white paper, democratic progress is likely to be smoother and steadier in future.
The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.