SAR government must promote merits of 'one country, two systems'

Updated: 2019-12-03 07:37

By Ho Lok-sang(HK Edition)

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Ho Lok-sang writes that this principle has made life better for HK people, and supporters of US' HK law need to rid themselves of wrong impressions

Too many people in Hong Kong do not understand "one country, two systems", why this is important for all of us, and what it takes to make it work.

Many Hong Kong people have enjoyed the benefits of economic prosperity for so long that we are taking things for granted. Like fish in water, they may not even be aware of its existence or how important water is to their survival.

Hong Kong people have struggled through very difficult times. During the 1950s and early 1960s, most Hong Kong people were struggling to make ends meet. Many of us were living in subdivided flats in very crowded conditions. Many lived in unsafe squatter camps that were not only unhygienic but also very dangerous. Corruption was rampant, as were robberies. There was no democracy to speak of. English was the only official language even though very few Hong Kong people at the time could speak or understand English. Yet Hong Kong people toughed it out, and painstakingly built Hong Kong into the vibrant economy of today.

SAR government must promote merits of 'one country, two systems'

Hong Kong people did not enjoy free compulsory primary education until 1971. It was in 1978 that Hong Kong started to have nine years of free compulsory education and also the Home Ownership Scheme. It was not until 1991 that Hong Kong had a third university. The old-age allowance, when it was first introduced in 1973, was available only for those aged 75 or above.

While the percentage of low-income earners, defined as making HK$10,000 ($1,280) or less a month at 2018 prices, among young people aged 21-25, had risen for the cohorts born after 1980, a recent study by me and a scholar at the Education University found that for those born in 1991-95, an unprecedentedly low 12 percent was poor. Even for those born in 1986-90, the percentage of low-income earners dropped from 36.3 percent to 5.3 percent by the time they reached 26-30!

The fact is, under "one country, two systems", life is actually getting better in Hong Kong. Not only are we economically better off than our forefathers, but we are having more democracy, less corruption, fewer crimes, a higher rule-of-law rating, and even the top life expectancy ranking in the world.

These days I have seen advertisements on television and on the radio persuading Hong Kong people to treasure our city as our home. This is very good. But the SAR government can do much more.

The Basic Law is the foundation of "one country, two systems". It not only protects our rights, but also spells out our obligations. Beijing has the obligation to honor what it has promised, and we have the obligation to honor the obligations that we have collectively committed, when the law draft was agreed upon between Hong Kong and Beijing and then promulgated.

People have the impression that Beijing had promised us universal suffrage to elect the chief executive and all legislators beyond the terms specified in Article 45 and Article 68 of the Basic Law. The SAR government should invite the Hong Kong Bar Association, the Law Society of Hong Kong, and top judges in our Court of Final Appeal to explain to the public what the law says about the rights and obligations on the part of Beijing and on us.

These messages should also be publicized internationally, so that there can be no misunderstanding about what Beijing has promised. This is of utmost importance because those who supported the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, particularly the senators and congressmen in the United States, appear to have the wrong impression that Beijing has deviated from "one country, two systems".

In point of fact, making sure that "one country, two systems" is followed through is in the interest of both Hong Kong and Beijing.

In particular, Article 45 states that: "The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures." Article 68, similarly, states that: "The method for forming the Legislative Council shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage."

If "one country, two systems" is to be upheld, as the US seems to agree it should be, then all those terms in the Basic Law, namely, "the actual situation in the Hong Kong SAR", "principle of gradual and orderly progress", and nominating committee that will be, at the ultimate stage, broadly representative, need to be respected.

Anyone who tries to dispose of these terms and still says that we should uphold "one country, two systems" is disingenuous.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(HK Edition 12/03/2019 page8)