National Solicitude in “One Country, Two Systems” and the Future of Hong Kong

By Huang Ping, Guo Yang

I. Hong Kong’s advance from governance to prosperity are the genuine aspirations of all Chinese people

It has been 25 years since the return of Hong Kong to the motherland.

In May 2022, the Sixth-Term Chief Executive election of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China was concluded in Hong Kong. Winning by an overwhelming majority, Mr. John Lee became the chief executive-designate. In accordance with the Basic Law, he was appointed as the six-term Chief Executive of the HKSAR by the State Council during a plenary session and assumed office on July 1, 2022. This election—the first since the improvement of the HKSAR’s electoral system—together with the elections for Election Committee and the Legislative Council respectively held in September and December 2021, achieves the full implementation of the new electoral system. The successful holding of these three elections marks the beginning of the reshaping of the HKSAR’s governance system under the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong,” highlighting Hong Kong’s major shift from chaos to stability.

Chaos means serious social unrest. In 2019, Hong Kong was rocked by disturbance over the proposed revisions to the extradition bill. Manipulated and incited by external forces, “Hong Kong independence” activists and “black violence” rioters blatantly agitated a string of acts of violence that crippled the region airport, MTR trains, roads and businesses. They even stormed the central government’s offices in Hong Kong and defamed and insulted the national flag and national emblem of China. All this fully exposed propensities for terrorism and separatism. Outraged and distressed by such acts against Hong Kong, all the Chinese people who care for Hong Kong were deeply worried about the dire situation of the region, but were also inspired by the decisive measures taken by the Central government to address both the symptoms and root causes of the unrest, and relieved by the hard-won stability. 

The 2019 turmoil is the worst unrest ever seen in the HKSAR, in which various domestic and foreign anti-China forces flagrantly challenged China’s bottom line of sovereignty and security, the authority of the central government and the SAR government, and the “one country, two systems” policy. It was not only an impediment to the economic development of Hong Kong and the everyday lives of ordinary citizens, but also an outright provocation against the national feelings and dignity of all Chinese people. When the Decision on Establishing and Improving the Legal System and Enforcement Mechanisms for Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR was adopted by the National People’s Congress (NPC) with overwhelming majority of votes, the rapturous applause from the NPC deputies reflected exactly the aspiration of the whole nation.

It is for this reason that the general public in Hong Kong and the mainland expect more than ever that the newly inaugurated HKSAR government will, under the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, take on a brand new look  and spare no effort to do what is “difficult but right” to implement the principle of “one country, two systems” fully and faithfully and provide a strong safeguard for the sound and sustained implementation of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong. This will not only facilitate effective and good governance in Hong Kong—thus truly ensuring the prosperity and stability of the region—but also forge its integration into national overall development and contribution to the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. In this way, Hong Kong and the mainland can reinforce their synergies by maximizing their respective strengths as well as the institutional advantages and potential of “one country, two systems”, so that Hong Kong, the Pearl of the Orient, will shine even brighter. 

II. The cause of “one country, two systems” is earnestly supported by all Chinese people

The day the sixth-term Chief Executive was sworn in coincided with the major historical junction of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland and the implementation of “one country, two systems”.

“One country, two systems” principle is a great initiative unprecedented in human political history and lays the political foundation for the peaceful handover and smooth transition between China and the United Kingdom, as well as for social stability and sustained economic prosperity in Hong Kong. The principle achieved monumental success by changing the so-called pattern of war and human suffering during recovery of lost territories.

The “one country, two systems” principle embodies the crystallization of Chinese civilization and wisdom, which has always highlighted the significance of the national consciousness of “great unification”. Nurtured by such sentiments and the conviction that “blood is thicker than water,” the Chinese people have strived to pursue national reunification while being committed to resolving the issues left from history with confidence, tolerance, kindness and sincerity by adhering to the philosophy of inclusiveness, paramount importance of  peace, putting people first and even returning good for evil. Taking heed of the voice of the people, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government designed, initiated, maintained and promoted the “one country, two systems” principle and its practice in Hong Kong with national wisdom, remarkable decisiveness and pragmatism, and demonstrated flexibility in navigating the economic interests and other issues involving the United Kingdom. Those efforts have won the genuine support of the whole nation, including our fellow compatriots in Hong Kong. This is the key to the success of  the cause of “one country, two systems”.

Since the return of Hong Kong 25 years ago, the constitutional order of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” with a high degree of autonomy has been established and consolidated under the guidance of the “one country, two systems” principle. Progress has been made in all undertakings. The rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents have been fully guaranteed. Hong Kong’s democratic system has improved steadily in accordance with the law. It has also maintained stable economic growth and continued to expand its external interactions and international influence. As the central government introduced a series of policy measures to benefit the development of Hong Kong, the region has witnessed greater integration into national overall development, embarking on a promising path of leveraging respective strengths for complementary and common development with the Mainland. The 25-year practice of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong has achieved universally recognized achievements, which provides ample proof that the principle is the best solution to the issue of Hong Kong’s return and the best institutional arrangement for the region to safeguard lasting stability and prosperity after its return. “One country, two systems” has proven feasible achievements and popular. 

At the same time, Hong Kong, which has long had grave national security loopholes, has become a stronghold for domestic and foreign forces who are opposed to China and attempt to destabilize Hong Kong to “legally” collude with each other and sow trouble on Chinese soil. Through their long-term, colonial-era layout, they managed to conspire with each other, control key economic lifeline and infiltrate into the judiciary, public opinion, education and other sectors in Hong Kong, keen to discredit and belittle the development and systems of the mainland and to incite confrontation between Hong Kong and the central government as well as mainland people. They blatantly disrupted the governance and legislative procedures of the SAR government, in a bid to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent puppet under their unbridled control, which would make easier their exploitation of the city’s abundant resources and clear the way for their attempt to oppose China, destabilize Hong Kong and contain China’s development.

The central government has always attached importance to safeguarding the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong, and has been closely following the developments of domestic and foreign anti-China forces. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stated that “one country, two systems” shall be implemented as what it is originally intended precisely, and has laid down three red lines in this regard. Out of a high level of trust in the HKSAR, the central government exercised the utmost restraint and forbearance towards the deplorable acts of the opposition agitators, and mainland residents have also shown the same tolerance towards the chaos in Hong Kong as they do towards rebellious teenagers. But opposition forces inside and outside Hong Kong and radical separatists returned evil for good and attempted to turn the 2019 turmoil into a “color revolution”.  They took trampling upon the goodwill of the central government and their fellow Chinese in the mainland as weakness and distorted and undermined “one country, two systems” at every opportunity.

After the Hong Kong National Security Law was promulgated and implemented, the central government has repeatedly stressed that the legislation only targets an extremely small minority of persons committing crimes that endanger national security, and will not affects the rights and freedoms enjoyed and exercised by the vast majority of citizens according to the law. After the new electoral system was applied in Hong Kong, President Xi Jinping, when meeting with the newly-appointed Chief Executive John Lee, reaffirmed the central government’s commitment to fully and faithfully implementing “one country, two systems,” which has never wavered and will never change.

China is a great nation with unyielding strategic focus and composure; its 1.4 billion people still have strong faith in their inseparable kinship with their fellow compatriots in Hong Kong and It is also believed that all fellow compatriots in Hong Kong can thrive and prosper in a social system they prefer and are comfortable with.

III. The three 60-year chapters of Hong Kong and national solicitude in “one country, two systems” 

On the important conjuncture of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the newly inaugurated SAR administration is ready to “start a new chapter for Hong Kong together” under the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, after the region weathered the storms of “Occupy Central” movement and the 2019 turmoil. As Hong Kong’s practice of “one country, two systems” was being smeared and distorted by external forces who are opposed to China and attempted to destabilize Hong Kong, which had shaken some Hong Kong citizens’ faith and raised their suspicion in their country, the central government has affirmed, in plenary  session decisions and historical resolutions, its resolve to fully and faithfully implement “one country, two systems” and clearly explained the theoretical, practical and legal logic thereof.

However, hegemonic powers in the West, which are used to the philosophy of doing things “from a position of strength” and tend to judge others’ behavior based on their own experience, are wrapped up in the logic of “power politics” and “zero-sum game” and refuse to even try to understand the logic of “one country, two systems”. As a result, they simply cannot fathom why the Chinese government has made such an arrangement that allows Hong Kong to retain a system different from that of the mainland, or why the seven million economically privileged Hong Kong residents are exempted from any national taxes. “One country, two systems” has been misinterpreted as an imposition on people’ will by a so-called “authoritarian state,” and has been used to demonize the CPC, stigmatize the mainland, and sow discord between Hong Kong and the mainland. With utter disregard for the Chinese people’s national aspirations for achieving national reunification and safeguarding territorial integrity as well as the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, Western hegemonic powers concocted such fallacies as “one country, two systems is dead” and “end of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong”. Out of ulterior motives, they even claimed to be the “guardians” of Hong Kong and arrogantly used the issue of Hong Kong governance—purely China’s internal affairs—as a bargaining chip in their representations to China on international occasions, revealing beyond no doubt their ignorance, arrogance and prejudice, as well as the interests consideration behind.

As President Xi Jinping pointed out, “one country, two systems” is a great initiative pursued by China. It offers a new approach and solution to the international community in addressing similar issues. It is another contribution made by the Chinese nation to promoting global peace and development. It embodies the Chinese wisdom which values openness and inclusiveness. It harbors no intrigues, deceptions, glory-seeking hoaxes, window dressing, or even expediencies with hidden agendas—the usual trickery in diplomacy and domestic politics of some Western countries—nor is it an appeasement measure in history that some less powerful countries were forced to take to endure humiliation in silence in order to barely maintain their unity and decency as a nation. The 180 years history since Hong Kong was forcibly ceded to Britain speaks the best answer as to why the Chinese nation was able to envisage and implement such a pioneering initiative as “one country, two systems”.

180 years ago in 1842, in the wake of China’s military defeats along its coast and rivers, the Qing government was compelled to sign the Treaty of Nanking with Britain, the first unequal treaty in China’s modern history, formally ceding Hong Kong Island to the British. In 1860, the Qing government was again forced by Britain to sign the Beijing Convention, ceding the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. Then, the Convention for an Extension of Hong Kong Territory signed in 1898 compelled China to lease to Britain the New Territories, the waters of Mirs Bay and Shenzhen Bay for 99 years. Over the first 60 years since the cession of Hong Kong Island, the British Empire had not only obsessively calculated its steps to encroach further into Chinese territory, but also used military force to satisfy its colonial greed as it demanded more and more than what was agreed under those unequal treaties, expelling Chinese officials in Kowloon City and gradually pocketing Hong Kong as a whole. After the cession of Hong Kong, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. “The country endured intense humiliation, the people were subjected to great pain, and the Chinese civilization was plunged into darkness”. Having suffered greater ravages from backwardness and subjugation than ever before, the Chinese people witnessed at first-hand the bloodstains on the powerful ships and guns of the imperialist powers, who were clamoring for “civilization”, “rules” and “order”.

The second 60-year period after the cession of Hong Kong, which covers the first half of the 20th century, witnessed China in the midst of revolution and war. After the Qing government was brought down, countless noble-minded patriots sacrificed their lives to fight for the survival of China, hoping to bring stability and prosperity for their people and to put an end to the unequal treaties imposed by the imperialist powers. During World War II, the then Chinese Government demanded the termination of the Convention for an Extension of Hong Kong Territory during treaty revision negotiations with Britain in 1942, but these demands were rejected blatantly by the British. At the end of World War II, Britain worked with America to put hurdles for China to accept the Japanese Army’s surrender in Hong Kong. As a result, Britain, thousands of miles away from the main battlefield of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, claimed to the “liberator” of Hong Kong and restored its colonial rule over the region. The way this chapter of history ended explains in a way why the Chinese people, who had been fighting so hard for national independence and liberation, ultimately chose the CPC. In 1949, through tenacious struggle, the People’s Republic of China was established. The Chinese nation was finally able to turn the tide against its decline over the past one hundred years. The Chinese people stood up. Following the great victory in the War against US Aggression and Aid Korea, China earned its voice in Asian and international affairs. Belatedly, foreign powers began to listen to the Chinese people’s call in their pursuit of national reunification and had to accept the fact that issues concerning China must be addressed in a way that reflects the will of its people.

The third 60 years after the cession of Hong Kong can be divided into two parts: before and after the year 1997. Going back 40 years, in September 1982, when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping met with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he pointed out that the future of Hong Kong was very much tied to China’s past humiliations in which it was forced to cede its territories and pay reparations, as well as to the Chinese government’s commitment to its people. He made it clear that China would resume the exercise of sovereignty and jurisdiction over Hong Kong in 1997—not only the New Territories, but also Hong Kong Island and Kowloon; otherwise, no Chinese leader or government can justify itself to the Chinese people or even to other people of the world. On July 1, 25 years ago, China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Hong Kong finally returned to its motherland. There are jubilation across the soil of China. So many people exulted with in this major step forward towards the complete national reunification.

The pioneering initiative of “one country, two systems” could never have been proposed and put into practice without intensive diplomatic engagements, rigorous institutional design and strong national power. At the same time, the lifeblood that is running throughout this process is the profound love for the Chinese nation and for our fellow compatriots, which is enshrined in the “one country, two systems” principle.

The ideals of paramount importance of peace, seeking harmony, without uniformity and promoting harmony among all nations and have been passed on from generation to generation throughout China’s thousands of years of history, and gene of a peace is deeply rooted in the lifeblood of the Chinese nation. Since the cession of Hong Kong, the Chinese national memory has been scarred by the unforgettable agonies of wars for over a hundred years. The peace-loving Chinese people hold dear their hard-won rights to lead a peaceful and stable life. True, when mobilized, they are strong enough to end war by use of force, which has been proved time and again by their victories in wars either to aid other countries or to defend their motherland; yet they are still willing to move beyond past grievances and resolve the issues left from history through peaceful means with utmost patience.

Since ancient times, Chinese civilization has been known for its openness and inclusiveness. It extols the virtues of benevolence and reveres the role of the people as the cornerstone of a society. It attaches great importance to considering others in their own place. Therefore, the choices made by our Hong Kong compatriots regarding their social system and lifestyles are truly understood and respected. We, the Chinese people, pursue harmony without uniformity and is always ready to help others to succeed. We believe that the strong and rich shall not bully the weak and poor, never mindful about trifles with malicious intention. With profound affection for the nation, the Chinese people see great truth in the saying that “Brothers, despite their differences, will eventually unite against invasions from outside.” In the same way, we believe that our fellow compatriots in Hong Kong will run their own affairs well.

The Chinese people also believe in looking at the bigger picture, and value honesty, justice and heroism. Attaching much weight to where the country’s top leaders stand on major issues of principle concerning national dignity and integrity, we are willing to follow the leader who has broad shoulders to carry such a vast responsibility. We believe that it is important to take a long-term perspective, and will not be tempted by petty, immediate gains.

The CPC, as an outstanding representative of the Chinese nation, has taken the initiative to integrate the fine factors of Chinese civilization into its policies in its practice of governing the country, and to address a wide range of concrete issues in a pragmatic and flexible approach. The principle and practice of “one country, two systems”, which was forged with extraordinary resolve by Deng Xiaoping along with the older generation of Chinese leaders, has perfectly expressed the feelings and visions of the Chinese people who love peace, care for their families, long for national reunification, keep in mind the big picture, and understand that only when we appreciate the uniqueness and diversity of others with openness can the world be blessed with universal harmony. 

IV. The future of “one country, two systems” and of Hong Kong

When Deng Xiaoping first designed “one country, two systems”, he already predicted that the practice of this unprecedented and groundbreaking undertaking, as it explores its way forward in Hong Kong, would encounter problems and challenges, which would require us to have a keen understanding of the situation and take the initiative to identify and address the deficiencies without delay in our endeavors to ensure the steady and enduring implementation of this basic national policy.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic and Ukraine crisis have brought even greater volatility and uncertainty to the world as it is already navigating major changes unseen in a century. In addition, the United States still stubbornly sees China as its biggest strategic competitor and threat, explicitly stating that it aims to “shape the strategic environment around Beijing” by ganging up with its allies in the upcomig critical decade. In such external environment, it will be no easy task for the steady and sustained implementation of the great practice of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.

Turning to Hong Kong itself, laissez-faire capitalism has nourished its structural problems including the dominant role of the financial and real estate sectors, insufficient momentum for sustainable development, as well as rising pressure of people’s livelihood such as housing and employment. An innovative development model is needed urgently for Hong Kong to break through existing institutional barriers and speed up its integration into national development in its pursuit of greater opportunities for growth. At the same time, the region needs to make the most of the “two systems” by drawing on the experience of the mainland in areas such as technological upgrading, industrial clusters and development zones. All this calls for Hong Kong to move beyond its self-imposed institutional barriers and self-perceived “superiority complex”, and guard against being led into political trap, which are set by those with ulterior motives, in the name of “freedom”.

By the end of the incumbent Chief Executive’s five-year term, Hong Kong will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its return to the motherland and its practice of “one country, two systems”. Even if there are bigger tribulations and challenges ahead, compatriots in Hong Kong and the mainland will stand alongside each other and hold on to the national solicitude enshrined in the great cause of “one country, two systems”. We place our trust in our nation and in our people. We are confident that our thousands of years long civilization has handed down enough political wisdom and institutional resources for us to respond to future conflicts, challenges, risks and “pitfalls”. We believe that as Hong Kong integrates more and more into national overall development while maintaining its distinctive dynamics and strengths, it will pump a refreshing and steady stream of momentum into its own growth as one of the major channels for China’s dual circulation connecting the domestic and international markets. And we believe that under the leadership of the SAR government established in line with the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, the Chinese people who make Hong Kong their home will realize self-integrity, self-fulfillment and self-improvement in the course of national rejuvenation, and share with all their fellow compatriots the glory of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Huang Ping is Executive President, Chinese Institute of Hong Kong.
Guo Yang is Director of Liaison Department, Chinese Institute of Hong Kong.