The “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unknown in China could continue after a 2047 deadline if loyalty to Beijing is upheld, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said yesterday.
Lam’s comments at the Hong Kong Legislative Council appeared to be an appeal to those who see Beijing as tightening its control over the semi-autonomous territory’s civic, economic and political life.
Hong Kong has been wracked by often violent anti-government protests since June last year, although they have diminished considerably in scale following a landslide win by opposition candidates in elections for district councilors late last year.
Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with a promise that it would maintain its own capitalist economy and Western-style institutions for 50 years.
“Only if we insist on implementing the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and practice it continuously and fully ... then I think there will be enough grounds for ‘one country, two systems’ to move ahead smoothly and there would be no change after 2047,” Lam said. “We have to uphold the principle of ‘one country.’ Only by doing this, can ‘one country, two systems’ be moving forward smoothly.”
Lam’s comments echoed language from Chinese Communist Party leaders, who have said that Hong Kong’s unique system is predicated on respect for Chinese sovereignty over the territory.
Beijing routinely accuses political opponents in Hong Kong of seeking to split the territory from China with the backing of foreign forces.
While it was not clear whether Lam was speaking in her own right, or under order or in coordination with Beijing, her comments had the feeling of a final warning to the people of Hong Kong that they “need to wear their loyalty to Beijing on their sleeves ... or else,” said Steve Tsang (曾銳生), director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
Tsang pointed to the appointment of hardliner Luo Huining (駱惠寧) as China’s top representative in Hong Kong as an indication of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) determination to end the protests.
In that context, Lam’s statement might have been a last-ditch appeal to the opposition in hopes of avoiding more serious consequences, although it is unlikely to have the desired effect, he said.
“I would be very surprised if Lam’s warning would be heeded in Hong Kong,” Tsang said. “Instead, it may well get the hardcore of the protesters annoyed.”
Lam also said that she hoped to announce next month the formation of an independent review committee to look into the root causes of the unrest.
Academics, experts and social leaders have been recruited for the committee, although some are reportedly reluctant to join out of fear of personal attacks or online harassment if their personal information is leaked by opponents.
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