Twenty years (later), “one country, two systems”. The controversy between the central government in Beijing and the inhabitants of the former British colony marks Hong Kong’s political relations and social events: Chinese President Xi Jinping, on his first official visit to the region, presided over the Hong Kong handover ceremony, twenty years after the passage of sovereignty from Great Britain to China, formalized after many negotiations on 1 July 1997. An important occasion, on a symbolic and political level. In addition to the celebrations, there was the oath of Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Carrie Lam. Xi Jinping in his speech set the goals to be achieved on growth and development, supporting the importance of Hong Kong’s stability for China’s political equilibrium. Beyond memories and future perspectives, many problems remain to be addressed in the present, starting with political issues. The Chinese president firmly affirmed the line of his government, reiterating the principle of “one country, two systems” and establishing the centrality of Beijing in the region’s administrative policies. <<Hong Kong has grown up>>, said Xi Jinping, pointing out that the former British colony <<has never been so free>>. The Joint Declaration, the agreement signed between London and Beijing in 1984, formalized the passage of Hong Kong to China after 156 years of British colonial rule. In 1979, during negotiations, complicated by the demands of Chinese leader Dèng Xiǎopíng, British and Chinese diplomatic representatives agreed on the principle “one country, two systems”, valid until 2047. The solution stipulates that the region is governed by China, but maintains a structured, parallel and autonomous administration bureaucratic system. Hong Kong enjoys a special statusthat recognizes more freedom and civil rights than China. A model of democracy integrated into a capitalist economic system that, with its dynamism and its openness to the West, would today represent, in the intentions of central government, the bastion of Chinese progress, the emblem of the new course inaugurated by the President Xi Jinping: Hong Kong will be a magnet for foreign investment and become the main Chinese bond market in the future. A key financial and commercial hub, an innovation lab to develop new technologies capable of strengthening China’s world-class economic and military leadership. After twenty years, it expects a tangible and significant step forward in political relations between Beijing and Hong Kong. <<Do not be afraid, horses will continue to run in Hong Kong, stocks will remain hot and dancers will always dance in the night>>, assured the Chinese leader Dèng Xiǎopíng in 1997. The pragmatic line of Xi Jinping must now be reconciled with the difficult political balance within the administration of Hong Kong, a region of agitation, outbreak of protest movements. The distance from Beijing, on a social and cultural level, remains significant. The long-term British dominance has marked Hong Kong in tradition, modifying the original Confucian imprinting and costumes, starting with the female condition. The Chinese society has never benefited of the civil liberties recognized in Hong Kong: the legal system, based on common law, recognizes the right to privacy, freedom of assembly and a broader labor legislation. A progressive process of “westernization” has invested the former British colony over the years: new lifestyles and greater economic prosperity, growing since the end of the II World War, influenced Hong Kong’s élites. The development of the tertiary sector and the access of women to highly specialized professions are the result of new opportunities created in many areas of the labor market, which can improve the level of education and strengthen the welfare state. Stability, pluralism, progress, are the words that best describe Hong Kong, (still today) a real city-state, a mix of localism and globalism. <<Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge central government power, or use Hong Kong to infiltrate sabotage against mainland, will be considered an act beyond the red line, therefore absolutely intolerable>>, said Xi Jinping forcefully in the statements issued at the end of the oath of the new government led by Carrie Lam. Clear words: the new chief executive will have to immediately deal with bad feelings, doubts and protests of citizens. In a new role. Three years ago, in his capacity as judge, Lam tried the path of dialogue with students who, in a series of events, claimed loudly universal suffrage. The demands for greater democratic openness have not been followed: no margin of independence, the harsh replication of the Beijing authorities. In autumn 2014, Hong Kong center was occupied for 79 days: tens of thousands of young people went down in the squares to protest against China’s undue interference in Hong Kong’s policy. Demonstrators of the “umbrella protest” denounced the anti-democratic nature of electoral law imposed by the central Chinese government: the voting system is based on an election committee of 1,200 members, close to the Chinese establishment, electing the governor of the region. The requests made by Hong Kong citizens – universal suffrage and direct election of their representatives -, have remained unfulfilled. <<We are already “a country, a system and a half,” we do not want a police state>>, the statements issued to the press by one of the leaders of the recent protests, Joshua Wong, after being released by the Hong Kong police authorities. The twenty-year-old student has been arrested twice in the three-day official visit of the President Xi Jinping: the tension between the local population, especially strong among the young and the middle class and the Beijing government remains high. The red line drawn from Chinese President marks the limit of tolerance by the central government, in order to impose its policy stance towards the former British colony. A shadow line stands out over the freedom of Hong Kong citizens. Will progress and rights follow the same parallel path?
Article published on eastwest.eu