Two Tales of One City
Hong Kong’s Future and Challenges
Twenty years after its handover to China from British rule, Hong Kong’s sense of identity remains in flux. Jasper Tsang and Martin Lee, two seasoned politicians from opposing camps, discuss what’s next for the territory.
Hong Kong’s Future and ChallengesBy Amber Lin
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 626 )
Seventy-year-old Jasper Tsang, former president of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, and 79-year-old Martin Lee, former chair of the Democratic Party, are the spiritual leaders of Hong Kong’s pan-establishment and pan-democratic camps. Two major pillars of Hong Kong politics, they have faced off against each other in many battles since the 1980s.
In separate exclusive interviews with CommonWealth, what do Tsang and Lee have to say about Hong Kong’s past, present, and future?
One Country, Two Systems is the Only Way
Generally speaking, the implementation of One Country, Two Systems has been a success. The fears people in Hong Kong had at the time, like a decline in the standard of living, or pan-democrats getting thrown in jail, have proven unfounded, and the mainland has risen up in the meantime. Still, this doesn’t mean I have full confidence that we can continue moving along smoothly.
There have been three major political crises since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, namely the proposed legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, electoral reform, and the failure to implement a national education program - the crux of all of which is mutual trust between the central government (Beijing) and Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s resistance does not go unnoticed by the central government, but if the civic rights and responsibilities of the people of Hong Kong cannot be defined, and by extension national security and education laws cannot be implemented, how can the “One Country” part of “One Country, Two Systems” be fulfilled?
Jasper Tsang, who recently retired from the Legislative Council (LegCo), is the leader of Hong Kong’s loyalist faction. His moderate stance has earned him the respect of the pan-democracy camp, and his excellent reputation among the people long made him a popular choice for chief executive.
On the eve of the handover, I was up all night at the LegCo passing bills. I was filled with optimism and excitement anticipating the end of colonial rule and the start of self-rule. Two decades after the handover, however, Hong Kong’s sense of belonging remains unresolved, and in fact this issue has only gotten worse. So at this time it is important for the younger generation to have a proper understanding of our relationship with China.
Many young people ask me, what happens to Hong Kong in 2047? I tell them, if One Country, Two Systems succeeds, who would want to change anything?
However, over the last 20 years, Beijing has also noticed that Hong Kong’s youths do not identify themselves as Chinese, and they believe that the spread of Hong Kong independence sentiment is the outcome of being too lax towards the pro-democracy camp over the years.
If things continue to deteriorate, we won’t have to wait until 2047 for the people of Hong Kong to feel adrift and alienated from China as the central government continues tightening its grip while ostensibly following the One Country, Two Systems model. But is that the sort of One Country, Two Systems people hoped for? This leads me to conclude that the only way forward is to rebuild trust between Hong Kong and Beijing so as to follow One Country, Two Systems as intended. That way, no one will have to worry about what happens in 2047.
I can’t say I’m optimistic or pessimistic; rather, I take a proactive attitude and thoroughly understand the difficulties that lie ahead. I know that Hong Kong has no other choice but to go forward full steam ahead with One Country, Two Systems. This is the only way.
There is No One Country, Two Systems
There is absolutely no problem with one country. On the evening of June 30, 1997, the Union Jack was taken down and with the raising of the flag of the People’s Republic of China, it became one country. The problem is that the “two systems” part has not actually been implemented. The essence of One Country, Two Systems is self-rule by the people of Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy. Without true democratic elections, without one vote for each Hong Kong citizen, how can there be a high degree of autonomy?
The night of the handover I was angry and depressed. According to the Basic Law, universal suffrage was not permitted for the first 10 years after the handover, but I felt that the right conditions were in place for Hong Kong to implement democracy immediately. Why should we have to wait 10 years? The Basic Law promised the direct election via universal suffrage of the chief executive and LegCo representatives by 2007, yet here we are still waiting 20 years later and it has not happened. So, really, there is no such thing as One Country, Two Systems.
Beijing is taking an increasingly hard line towards Hong Kong. Over the past 20 years there have been several pauses in the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing, and subsequently things have only worsened. The Chinese Communist Party has no faith in implementing One Country, Two Systems, because at the end of the day they don’t trust the people of Hong Kong. Yet I am truly awed by the people of Hong Kong, who still see things so clearly after all these years of the communists’ constant efforts to use economic coercion and to influence voting through immigration from China. As a result, the pro-democracy camp gets the majority of votes in every LegCo election.
Martin Lee, founding chair of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, left a career as a prominent lawyer for politics. Lee participated in the drafting of the Basic Law in the 1980s, is a signature leader of Hong Kong’s pan-democracy camp, and has dedicated the last 30 years to Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
It’s too bad about the last 20 years, which should have been just fine.
If One Country, Two Systems had actually been implemented, things might look quite different. But they (Beijing) wanted total control, and couldn’t trust anyone not completely subservient to them.
Jasper Tsang is a loyalist with a bottom line as well as a sense of humor, and he knows what’s good for Hong Kong. Yet the communists won’t use him.
On the third day of the Umbrella Movement, a 19-year-old girl came up to me, crying and asking, “Why did you accept One Country, Two Systems?” In return, I asked her, “So do you mean we should be independent? Without British support, we would have had to have a revolution, which would only have pushed up Beijing’s plans to take over. Would that have been preferable?” She had no answer to this, and I added, “If you want a revolution, you can go ahead and do it yourself. Don’t blame us, but you know full well the cost.”
These days, young people have been talking about determining their own future, and that Hong Kong should have several options to choose for Hong Kong’s future, i.e. One Country, One System; One Country, Two Systems; or independence. Which would you choose? I go for the middle one. This is freedom of speech. Why can’t we have a discussion about it? I’m 79 years old. If everyone keeps following my generation, then Hong Kong has no future. Young folks have their own ideas, and while they might make mistakes, so do we. Their democracy movement has been more successful than ours. They’ve won the hearts and minds of the entire world, so of course we should support them. Only history can determine who’s right and who’s wrong. The point is that they can think for themselves, and I will always advocate for them.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman