Han Zhu

Notes that Hong Kong’s high de­gree of au­ton­omy is not an in­trin­sic fea­ture of the ter­ri­tory, as in a fed­eral state, but is granted by cen­tral gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The development and progress of Hong Kong in the past 20 years after its re­turn to China have been wit­nessed and rec­og­nized by all. To­day, Hong Kong is one of the best cities in the world in terms of eco­nomic free­dom, per capita in­come, level of rule of law, pub­lic se­cu­rity and av­er­age life ex­pectancy, sur­pass­ing the United States and many Euro­pean coun­tries. Hong Kong owes its grat­i­fy­ing achieve­ments to im­ple­men­ta­tion of the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” prin­ci­ple. How­ever, after 20 years of prac­tice of “one coun­try, two sys­tems” in Hong Kong, mis­un­der­stand­ing about this prin­ci­ple, es­pe­cially the “two sys­tems” part, still ex­ists among politi­cians in Hong Kong.

What does “two sys­tems” mean ex­actly? Ac­cord­ing to the Ba­sic Law, “two sys­tems” refers to noth­ing else but the so­cial­ist sys­tem and cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. When judg­ing whether “two sys­tems” has been ef­fec­tively im­ple­mented in Hong Kong, the most fun­da­men­tal cri­te­rion should be: Is the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem well main­tained in Hong Kong? Is cap­i­tal­ism in Hong Kong run­ning well? Un­for­tu­nately, some peo­ple in Hong Kong only care about how much “in­her­ent power” Hong Kong has, and at which point cen­tral au­thor­i­ties should stop con­cern­ing them­selves with Hong Kong is­sues, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on how well cap­i­tal­ism works. This at­ti­tude has com­pletely de­vi­ated from the original in­tent of the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” prin­ci­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the na­tional Con­sti­tu­tion and the Ba­sic Law of the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra- tive Re­gion, there is no room for any de­cen­tral­iza­tion from cen­tral gov­ern­ment and Hong Kong SAR Gov­ern­ment. Hong Kong, as an SAR, does not have any in­her­ent power it­self, and all Hong Kong’s pow­ers are con­ferred by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. There is no doubt that after the han­dover Hong Kong has en­joyed a very high de­gree of au­ton­omy which is rare in to­day’s world. Un­der the Ba­sic Law, Hong Kong has in­de­pen­dent ju­di­cial power — in­clud­ing that of fi­nal ad­ju­di­ca­tion, cur­rency is­su­ing power and cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion ju­ris­dic­tion — while many states of fed­eral sys­tem coun­tries have no such pow­ers. As a re­sult, some peo­ple take it for granted that Hong Kong, as an SAR, should be in­de­pen­dent of the au­thor­ity of cen­tral gov­ern­ment, ex­cept that it has no ju­ris­dic­tion over acts of state such as de­fence and for­eign af­fairs. It is pre­cisely be­cause of this mis­un­der­stand­ing that, when the cen­tral gov­ern­ment re­leased “The Prac­tice of the ‘One Coun­try, Two Sys­tems’ Pol­icy in the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion” in 2014, some peo­ple were dis­mayed and dis­ori­ented.

What has been over­looked is that as an SAR in a uni­tary state, the au­ton­omy Hong Kong en­joys does not change the le­gal frame­work that the Hong Kong SAR is a lo­cal or­gan of state power at pri­mary level, led by the cen­tral lead­er­ship. Even if it has a higher de­gree of au­ton­omy than many states in a fed­eral dis­pen­sa­tion, it could not change the fact that the SAR is un­der China’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment, be­cause the high de­gree of au­ton­omy of the SAR is not an in­her­ent power but comes solely from au­tho­riza­tion by the cen­tral lead­er­ship; its high de­gree of au­ton­omy is sub­ject to the level of the cen­tral lead­er­ship’s au­tho­riza­tion, which is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the state power in a fed­eral sys­tem. The fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence lies in that even if the state power of the fed­eral state is less than the au­ton­omy of the Hong Kong SAR, its power is in­her­ent in the state. The dif­fer­ence be­tween two sys­tems must not be con­fused.

In short, the “two sys­tems” in “one coun­try, two sys­tems” refers to the so­cial sys­tems of so­cial­ism and cap­i­tal­ism adopted by the main­land and Hong Kong re­spec­tively, rather than the de­cen­tral­iza­tion from cen­tral lead­er­ship to the HKSAR Gov­ern­ment. It is par­tic­u­larly nec­es­sary to clar­ify the meaning of “one coun­try, two sys­tems” on the 20 th an­niver­sary of Hong Kong’s re­turn to the moth­er­land.

What has been over­looked is that as an SAR in a uni­tary state, the au­ton­omy Hong Kong en­joys does not change the le­gal frame­work that the Hong Kong SAR is a lo­cal or­gan of state power at pri­mary level, led by the cen­tral lead­er­ship.

The au­thor is research fel­low and di­rec­tor of Shang­dao In­sti­tute for So­cial Research.

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