First two decades vin­di­cate ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HKSAR -

When I first came to work in Hong Kong back in 1996 there was still con­sid­er­able lo­cal anx­i­ety, with many peo­ple wor­ried about what would be­come of Hong Kong after the 1997 handover. Many lo­cal cit­i­zens sought, and ob­tained, res­i­dency rights in such far-away places as Canada, New Zealand, Bri­tain or Aus­tralia as safe places to bolt to — if things did not turn out well.

Hong Kong’s al­ready es­tab­lished way of life, in­clud­ing its cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, was to be pre­served for 50 years un­der the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” ar­range­ment agreed to be­tween the Chi­nese and Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties. Now that 20 years have passed un­der this un­prece­dented for­mula, it is ap­pro­pri­ate to take stock of how things have gone.

The essence of this unique ar­range­ment is that un­wanted changes should not be made, mean­ing Hong Kong’s dis­tinc­tive fea­tures should be kept just as they were un­der the old colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion. Thus, even though Hong Kong is now a spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion of China, the lo­cal cur­rency is pre­served; Hong Kong still has its own postage stamps; our re­spected civil ser­vice is sep­a­rate from that of the Chi­nese main­land; our highly ef­fec­tive po­lice and other dis­ci­plined forces are still lo­cally re­cruited; our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem re­mains sep­a­rate from that to the north; we still have our own courts and ju­di­ciary; we still have our own Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil; and — per­haps most im­por­tant of all — Hong Kong still op­er­ates un­der its own rule of law, with its own lo­cal leg­is­la­tion.

Such preser­va­tions of the sta­tus quo do much to help this city main­tain its at­trac­tions. Many new­com­ers to Hong Kong are as­ton­ished to find, 20 years after its sovereignty has rightly re­verted to China, that the city’s many unique fea­tures are still be­ing main­tained. It is clearly a tribute to the wis­dom of the late leader Deng Xiaop­ing, the au­thor of this con­cept, and ne­go­tia­tors from both sides who crafted the agree­ment.

But, as with any sys­tem, the proof of the pud­ding is in the eat­ing and bear­ing that in mind, the con­tin­ued sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity of Hong Kong have re­sulted in those pre-handover anx­i­eties be­ing mostly as­suaged. In­deed, many who left for Canada and else­where in the early days have since moved back to Hong Kong.

The high de­gree of au­ton­omy promised to the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion proved to be a re­al­ity in its ex­er­cise, and not just in name. The vi­brancy of its cit­i­zens’ ex­pres­sion of free­dom of speech and move­ment is sec­ond to none. But­tressed by the city’s sta­bil­ity and ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance, its econ­omy con­tin­ued to pros­per, so much so that its fi­nan­cial re­serves have reached un­prece­dented lev­els, and are kept in Hong Kong.

Thanks to the ef­forts of a fully lo­cal po­lice force, Hong Kong re­mains one of the safest metropoli­tan cities in the world where women can go out un­ac­compa- The writer pre­vi­ously worked in Bei­jing, be­fore mov­ing to Hong Kong in 1996. He is a univer­sity lec­turer and com­men­ta­tor in Hong Kong and Thai­land.

nied and un­con­cerned about their safety at any hour of the day. This has been achieved without Hong Kong be­com­ing a po­lice state. The city has fur­ther de­vel­oped its al­ready im­pres­sive in­fra­struc­ture after 1997, for ex­am­ple with the build­ing of sev­eral new MTR lines and ma­jor new trans­port links to the main­land.

To the de­light of gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren, Ocean Park (which has spent half of its 40 years of op­er­a­tion un­der the SAR) has been much re-de­vel­oped. Hong Kong’s Dis­ney­land (which opened in 2005) is an­other ex­am­ple of the SAR gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects in sup­port of its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plans. The im­pres­sive re­fur­bish­ment of the PMQ (Po­lice Mar­ried Quar­ters), am­bi­tious plans for the West Kowloon arts hub, and its vi­brant art and cul­ture pro­grams, are fur­ther ex­am­ples of the SAR’s am­bi­tion to make the city not just a com­mer­cial hub but also a fa­vored des­ti­na­tion for over­seas vis­i­tors.

Of course, some things have un­for­tu­nately moved in a neg­a­tive di­rec­tion. For ex­am­ple, the price of buy­ing or rent­ing a home or of­fice in Hong Kong has in­creased ex­po­nen­tially since 1997, mak­ing this one of the world’s most costly cities in which to live. On the other hand, Hong Kong’s life ex­pectancy is now the high­est in the world: Which is no mean feat, bear­ing in mind the very over-crowded liv­ing con­di­tions for most of its cit­i­zens.

Thanks to its ex­cep­tional pub­lic trans­port fa­cil­i­ties, Hong Kong is one of the best in­ter­nally con­nected cities in the world while Hong Kong’s in­ter­na­tional air­port at Chek Lap Kok is ranked a very re­spectable fifth place in the World Air­port Awards.

There is no short­age of en­er­getic and well-ed­u­cated lo­cal cit­i­zens, ready to staff all man­ner of for­eignowned en­ter­prises in Hong Kong, with most of them bilin­gual in the two of­fi­cial lan­guages of Chi­nese and English.

For all th­ese rea­sons, and more, the first 20 years since the re­ver­sion of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China has proven to be a vin­di­ca­tion of “one coun­try, two sys­tems”, and cause for cel­e­bra­tion.

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