One Country, Two Systems, Ten Years – Gerard Baker

From The Weekly Standard:

Hong Kong will soon mark the tenth anniversary of its return to China. At midnight on July 1, 1997, amid the mournful downpour of a tropical monsoon, as British soldiers lowered the Union Flag for the last time and Tony Blair, the fresh-faced new prime minister, looked on, another chapter in Britain’s long colonial history closed.

But this recessional for a lost empire was unlike almost all of the previous scenes of decolonization enacted over the preceding 50 years. For the first time, the United Kingdom was not ceding sovereignty to the people of the little territory it had governed for 150 years. It was handing them over, lock, stock, and barrel, into the welcoming arms of the People’s Republic of China, a regime that had, just eight years earlier, revealed to the world the shocking depths to which it would stoop in its own self-preservation, massacring thousands of its own students in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. [Full Text]

See also The Hong Kong S.A.R. at Ten Years – An American Perspective — Remarks by U.S. Consul General James B. Cunningham to The Better Hong Kong Foundation:

… Let me begin by saying that looking back over the last ten years, the United States believes that “one country, two systems” has been a success for Hong Kong and for China. The Basic Law’s commitment to preserve a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong and to maintain the integrity of its distinct economic, legal and social systems by and large has been observed.

I would also like to state unequivocally that my government wants Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems” model to succeed. Before and since 1997, the implementation of this historic experiment has been of great interest to the international community. After 10 years, we continue to have great hopes for Hong Kong’s future. This is more than a thing of mere words, because the U.S. has a measurable stake in Hong Kong’s success. As Asia’s world city, Hong Kong plays an important role which benefits China, the U.S. and many others in the globalized, interdependent 21st century. America itself has no small stake in Hong Kong. It is our 15th largest export market. 60,000 U.S. citizens reside here, and a million more Americans visit each year. 1,200 U.S. firms have local and regional offices here – which, by the way, employ 10% of Hong Kong’s work force. U.S. direct investment in Hong Kong totals 38 billion U.S. dollars.

Just as a prosperous, stable and confident China is in the U.S. national interest, so also is a prosperous, stable and confident Hong Kong.

Looking back over the past 10 years, Hong Kong, like much of the rest of Asia, has faced its share of trials. But Hong Kong has been able to rebound – decidedly so. Economic growth over the last three years has been strong (GDP grew by 6.5% in 2006), and polls show the Hong Kong people are generally optimistic about the future and about their role in China. The United States shares that optimism and congratulates Hong Kong on being on the path to success. We have strong expectations that Hong Kong will continue on that high road.

There is good reason for this positive forecast.

After 10 years of Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong remains the most open and developed part of China. The Central Government has generally respected its commitment to maintain a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, and has acted over the years in concrete ways to support Hong Kong’s economic development and prosperity. The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, the introduction and expansion of the individual visitor scheme, the growing cooperation within the Pan- Pearl River Delta region and the liberalization of rules on the use of Renminbi in business and finance remain important elements of Hong Kong’s past and future economic success. Hong Kong’s role as an international financial center has strengthened in the last ten years. Hong Kong’s market capitalization is now three and a half times what it was in 1997. The territory is the number one source of capital for China, raising 43 billion dollars U.S. in 2006. Hong Kong remains an important economy which exercises active membership in the World Trade Organization and in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Once again this year, for the 13th straight year, the Heritage Foundation recognized the Hong Kong SAR as having the highest level of economic freedom in the world. Just last week, the Japan Centre for Economic Research ranked Hong Kong first out of 50 world economies in 2006 in the areas of competitiveness, internationalization, and finance.

Importantly, though, Hong Kong serves as an example of more than just an economic success story.

Hong Kong remains a model Chinese society that observes the rule of law, follows free and fair market principles, allows unfettered entrepreneurial activity, and respects freedom and human rights, including religious freedom. Its political system is evolving, and public participation in civic affairs is growing.

Hong Kong has survived and thrived over the years by repeatedly adapting to changing economic and political circumstances, and redefining itself. It must continue to do so to remain stable, prosperous and competitive. In a rapidly changing global economy, the status quo is not enough.

In the fast moving globalized economy of the 21st century, good governance and public engagement are necessary for success, not optional. Difficult decisions need to be made, and executed. Hong Kong is no exception. Our experience is that a vibrant, authentic political process helps strengthen leadership legitimacy and accountability, and thus promotes stability. While the 2007 Chief Executive selection process limited participation by the people of Hong Kong, elements of the process – in which the candidates debated issues during live television broadcasts – showcased an important change in Hong Kong’s political development. Just as Hong Kong’s economy is a living example of the success brought by freedom, competition, and individual choice, we believe that its political system would also benefit. Indeed, in our view such political legitimacy and accountability is a necessary part of the “whole package” of being a modern, competitive and stable society. Because of this, we have long supported universal suffrage for Hong Kong, the goal established in the Basic Law. We believe that people in Hong Kong are especially well-prepared for such participation, and that the Hong Kong people should decide the scope and pace of movement toward universal suffrage, in accordance with the Basic Law. We understand full well that it is for the people of Hong Kong to work this out among themselves. My government does not presume to prejudge the structure of a future political system for Hong Kong, or to promote one timetable over another. But we genuinely believe it necessary, for both Hong Kong and the mainland, that Hong Kong set out on the path toward governance strengthened by popular elections, and the sooner this happens, the better.

We welcome the Chief Executive’s intention to resolve the issue of universal suffrage during his tenure, and wish him every success in his efforts. As the debate evolves, we would hope to see an expansion of genuine dialogue and consensus on Hong Kong’s future within China and early political reform that will sustain Hong Kong’s prosperity, stability and good governance.

We also remain concerned about occasional events and possible trends that some observers believe may present troubling precedents or undermine the high degree of autonomy promised in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. One of these is a widely-held public perception that Hong Kong’s press increasingly practices self-censorship in reporting or commenting on issues of high political sensitivity to the PRC central government. Over the years there have been several instances, as you well know, of intervention or interpretation by the Central Government that have raised questions. Such interventions, while infrequent, can undermine public and international confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy and competitiveness.

That said, our evaluation of the progress over the past 10 years is positive, and we are optimistic about the next 10 years – as Americans usually are. Hong Kong is an open, vibrant, and sophisticated society. It has much to contribute to China, and to offer to the rest of the world as an international city. People here continue to anticipate the future, and to plan for change. I have been fortunate to make dozens of Hong Kong friends in my time here; they are proudly Chinese, and see no contradiction between love of their country and the pursuit of Hong Kong’s economic and political development. “One country, two systems” is working, despite the earlier doubts and the predictable difficulties. There is no doubt in my mind that it can continue to do so. The United States is a friend with a sincere hope for and strong interest in Hong Kong’s success, and, more broadly, China’s success. [Full Text]

June 20, 2007 8:00 AM
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Categories: Economy, Hong Kong, Politics