First two decades vindicate ‘one country, two systems’
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.