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China's Hong Kong policy of "One Country, Two Systems"

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

Understanding "One country, two systems"

Source: Wikipedia

"One country, two systems" is a constitutional principle describing the governance of Hong Kong and Macau since they became regions of China in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

It was formulated in the early 1980s by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of China (PRC), during negotiations with the United Kingdom over Hong Kong.

He suggested that there would be only one China, but that these regions could retain their own economic and administrative systems, while the rest of Mainland China uses the socialism with Chinese characteristics system. Under the principle, each of the two regions could continue to have its own governmental system, legal, economic and financial affairs, including trade relations with foreign countries, all of which are independent from those of the Mainland. The PRC has also proposed to apply the principle in the unification it aims for with Taiwan.

In order to more fully understand the current implications of "One country, two systems" it is necessary to look back in history to when the formula originated...


By their own free will the British and Chinese governments entered into the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, a binding agreement lodged by both parties with the United Nations (UN), for a 50 year period starting on 1 July 1997. The parties having agreed are both responsible.

As article 3.12 below stipulates the basic policies [articles 3.1-3.12] of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for Hong Kong (HK), which are elaborated in Annex I, will be stipulated, in a Basic Law of HK by the National Peoples's Congress and they will remain unchanged for 50 years.

China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has repeatedly breached the Joint Declaration.

Today the fundamental problem in Hong Kong is that China has no rule of law and only has rule by law.

China under the CCP is the worse authoritarian regime in history.

This is not a problem caused by the British government nor of the people of Hong Kong.

This is not a problem caused by the people of China.

This is a problem solely caused by the CCP and they must be held responsible.

(see our blog on China's breach of the Joint Declaration)

The origin of HK today is the Joint Declaration

The British and Chinese signed the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration to address the question of Hong Kong and both parties lodged this Joint Declaration with the United Nations. This Joint Declaration is a valid agreement for 50 years from 1 July 1997 until 1 July 2047.

Joint Declaration text from Chapter Three (bold formatting in point 12 added for emphasis):

"3. The Government of the People's Republic of China declares that the basic policies of the People's Republic of China regarding Hong Kong are as follows:

(1) Upholding national unity and territorial integrity and taking account of the history of Hong Kong and its realities, the People's Republic of China has decided to establish, in

acordance with the provisions of Article 31 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region upon resuming the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong.

(2) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be directly under the authority of the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China. The Hong Kong Special

Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People's Government.

(3) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in Hong Kong will remain basically unchanged.

(4) The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be composed of local inhabitants. The chief executive will be appointed by the Central People's Government

on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally. Principal officials will be nominated by the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

for appointment by the Central People's Government.

Chinese and foreign nationals previously working in the public and police services in the government departments of Hong Kong may remain in employment. British and other foreign nationals may also be employed to serve as advisers or hold certain public posts in government departments of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

(5) The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law.

(6) The Hong Kong Special Adminstrative Region will retain the status of a free port and a separate customs territory.

(7) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will retain the status of an international financial centre, and its markets for foreign exchange, gold, securities and futures will

continue. There will be free flow of capital. The Hong Kong dollar will continue to circulate and remain freely convertible.

(8) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will have independent finances. The Central People's Government will not levy taxes on the Hong Kong Special Administrative


(9) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may establish mutually beneficial economic relations with the United Kingdom and other countries, whose economic interests

in Hong Kong will be given due regard.

(10) Using the name of "Hong Kong, China", the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may on its own maintain and develop economic and cultural relations and conclude relevant

agreements with states, regions and relevant international organisations.

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may on its own issue travel documents for entry into and exit from Hong Kong.

(11) The maintenance of public order in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be the responsibility of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

(12) The above-stated basic policies of the People's Republic of China regarding Hong Kong and the elaboration of them in Annex I to this Joint Declaration will be stipulated, in a Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, by the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, and they will remain unchanged for 50 years."

'One Country, Two Systems' Is Still the Best Model for Hong Kong, But It Badly Needs Reform

Source: Time.com 30 December 2019. Authors:

  • Brian Wong is an MPhil in Politics candidate at Wolfson College, Oxford, and the editor-in-chief of the Oxford Political Review.

  • John Mak is an inaugural Obama Scholar and the founder of multiple NGOs that focus on building civil society relations between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong’s 1997 handover was historic in the adoption of the One Country, Two Systems arrangement, by which the city would continue to enjoy its distinct political, socioeconomic, and legal arrangements under a unified China, for at least fifty years without change.

But to say that the transition hasn’t been easy is an understatement.

Reviewing the past summer in Hong Kong, where peaceful mass rallies attended by millions have descended into some of the most acrimonious violence and destruction witnessed by the city, it is tempting to attribute the events to monolithic explanations and engage in the blame game. Many in the movement portray themselves as struggling against an authoritarian hegemon, whereas the establishment characterizes the movement as riotous vandalism incited by socioeconomic woes and foreign interference.

We suggest an alternative interpretation: that this summer of unrest is the product of accumulated, fundamentally defective, communicative failures and interpretative differences by all parties, surrounding the implementation of One Country, Two Systems.

This summer’s unrest was sparked by opposition towards a now-withdrawn extradition law amendment, which drew significant controversy over its perceived impacts on Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy. But the seeds of mistrust go back to 2003 and the administration’s attempted introduction of Article 23 - a law that sought to outlaw speech, assemblies, and political activities jeopardizing Chinese national security.

The legislation was criticized as being suppressive of Hong Kong’s freedoms, and was eventually dropped after half a million people took to the streets. The then Secretary for Security, Regina Ip, also resigned, but the now familiar battle lines had been drawn up: Beijing took the stance that democratization in Hong Kong must be accompanied by the guarantee that any such progress would not threaten China’s national security, while the Hong Kong public gradually developed the antagonistic perception that Beijing was reluctant to grant the city genuine political freedom. Hence the bitter impasse today.

It has not always been this way, however.

From 1997 to 2008, the Chinese economy’s historic growth rates, the increase in mutually beneficial cross-border financial and economic activities, and China’s international successes - from hosting the Olympics to its space travel - instilled heightened pro-Chinese sentiment among the Hong Kong public. Even during political crises - from the demonstrations against the controversial Article 23, to anger over the government’s handling of SARS - Hongkongers directed their anger towards the local administration as opposed to Beijing. Politicos even quipped that had Hong Kong been granted universal suffrage then, the elected candidate would almost certainly be a pro-Beijing figure.

The honeymoon ended in 2009, with highly publicized rallies against the construction of a high-speed rail link to China. Chinese customs and immigration law applied in parts of the terminal building, symbolizing to protesters an encroachment upon Hong Kong’s territorial rights. That controversy and other, seemingly innocuous disputes - ranging from the trading of parallel goods across the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border to shortages of maternity ward beds due to the influx of mainland Chinese women seeking to give birth in the territory - instilled a desire for a local government willing to stand up for local needs.

For its part, the central government was taken aback by what it saw as blatant ingratitude, given the enormous Chinese investment in Hong Kong, and the opening-up of business opportunities on the mainland to Hong Kong investors since reunification. Both sides focused on distinctly disparate metrics: Beijing on the aggregate numbers and statistics, Hongkongers on the lived experiences inaccessible to many in the political elite. The Two Systems principle offered little insight into how such frictions ought to be resolved.

Many in Hong Kong turned as a remedy to full universal suffrage - as promised in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. The argument was that Hong Kong’s issues could only be tackled by a leader accountable to all Hong Kong citizens (as opposed to one selected by a college of 1,200 carefully screened electors). For Beijing, instantaneous universal suffrage was a no-go. In governing a vast and heterogeneous nation, with a history scarred by political disorder, its policymakers were apprehensive about the potential instability and uncertainty brought about by a free election for Hong Kong’s leader. It insisted that democratization must come gradually. In 2010, moderate democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong reciprocated the goodwill, in entering into multiple closed-room dialogues with mainland officials, which resulted in the Democratic Party - the largest opposition party - endorsing a compromise proposal that would institutionalize universal suffrage by 2017, but allow Beijing to vet candidates for the role of chief executive, as Hong Kong’s top official is called.

China saw this as a sign of Hong Kong’s willingness to embrace a slow, steady march towards full democracy. Yet certain democrats and radicals saw the hedged proposal as a betrayal of genuine suffrage. Their view gained significant traction, particularly among Hong Kong youth, between 2010 and 2011, as a combination of rampant socioeconomic inequalities, scandals involving high-ranking officials, and controversies over legislative mechanisms nudged many to pivot towards more fundamental and systemic skepticism, both toward both the local administration and the territory’s relations with the Mainland. Such skepticism manifested in criticism increasingly targeted at Beijing, which began seeing opposition lawmakers as a prospective threat to its sovereignty.

The development of Hong Kong identity

The establishment believed that the public’s declining approval of the Chinese regime could be resolved through enrichment of their understanding of Chinese history and politics, coupled with a rigorous civil education. Thus, in 2012, the government introduced the Moral and National Education (MNE) program, with the intention of bridging the communicative gaps between the mainland and Hong Kong. What this move underestimated, perhaps, was the recalcitrant disillusionment towards the administration among many in Hong Kong - particularly the young. The anti-MNE movement effectively portrayed the curriculum as “brainwashing propaganda” and the overwhelming opposition eventually compelled the administration to withdraw the proposal.

How should the system manage the increasingly opposing identities now developing? Should Hongkongers identify themselves as Chinese or something else, and should the government undertake measures to engineer their identity? These questions remained unanswered in 2012.

The original statement of the One Country, Two Systems principle never explicitly addressed many highly pertinent cultural questions. This was understandable, given the difficulty of foresight and the unprecedented nature of the arrangement. But in the meantime, a distinctly identitarian undertone was nurtured in Hong Kong’s opposition. The MNE controversy triggered the construction of a specifically Hong Kong identity that served effectively as the antithesis to the compromise “Hong Kong Chinese” identity that held sway prior to 2008.

The Chinese administration deemed the new ideological strand as secessionist and perilous to Hong Kong’s continued stability. For Beijing, the question of local or regional identity opened a Pandora’s Box that would threaten the country’s cohesiveness. Accordingly, on Aug. 31, 2014, the central government issued the seminal white paper on the 2017 chief executive elections, which called for all candidates to “love the country [China] and love Hong Kong” and stipulated stringent selection criteria over the candidatures.

This ruling was met with substantial backlash from the Hong Kong public, triggering the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which saw 79 days of largely peaceful, albeit law-breaking, sit-ins in the city’s key districts. One Country, Two Systems faced its greatest challenge yet, with Beijing seeing Hong Kong’s nascent democracy movement as threatening the country’s territorial integrity, while those in the movement saw it as one system’s legitimate defense against the other.

Since 2014, the gulf between pro-Beijing and anti-Beijing camps has become wider. The former sees the promise of autonomy under the Basic Law as correlated with stability, economic freedoms, and the preservation and maintenance of formally written laws and rights. The latter treats autonomy as a dynamic, political concept, existing only through unfettered universal suffrage. Beijing views democratization in Hong Kong as founded upon the prerequisite of not interfering with China’s continual political and economic ascent, whereas many in Hong Kong have grown increasingly impatient over the calcified governance that they see as the product of a system without free elections and political accountability. Given the increasing polarization and breakdown in communication between the people of Hong Kong and the central government, this summer’s events were all but inevitable.

There remain 28 years to go before the promise of 50 years without change ends. One Country, Two Systems remains the optimal model for managing the relations between Hong Kong and China. Rejuvenating the model, however, requires adapting it to address the political, socioeconomic, and cultural concerns of the Hong Kong public and this would be impossible without structural reforms in how political consultation, policy-making, and accountability-maintenance are enacted.

In order for Hong Kong to recover from this summer, all parties must act with pragmatic moderation and compassionate sensitivity in overcoming fundamental, yet not intractable, communicative differences between the city and the mainland. We must navigate a difficult, but necessary, path that seeks convergence in interests and preservation of values between the two systems, under one country.

[Update RTHK 18 February 2020 HKers trust in one country two systems is now only 35.3%]

Further references:

  1. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/democracy-hong-kong OCTS leading to heightened tensions and sensitivities

  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-anniversary-president/taiwan-leader-rejects-chinas-one-country-two-systems-offer-idUSKBN1WP0A4 Taiwan rejects OCTS

  3. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/taiwan-rejects-china-one-country-two-systems_n_5e0d52bfe4b0b2520d1cacf6 Taiwan rejects OCTS

  4. http://theconversation.com/china-can-still-salvage-one-country-two-systems-in-hong-kong-heres-how-129261 Beijing has to allow HK to manage itself

  5. https://www.rand.org/blog/2020/02/where-does-chinas-one-country-two-systems-stand-in.html OCTS hasn't been completely rejected in HK but the way in which the Beijing/HK relationship manifests itself needs revision going forward

  6. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/hong-kong-protests-one-country-two-systems-numerous-problems-57145/ OCTS has lead to instability in HK, and its principles need refining to increase autonomy, democracy and social justice

  7. https://thediplomat.com/2019/10/can-beijing-and-hong-kong-rejuvenate-one-country-two-systems/ A case for rejuvenating OCTS

  8. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-27/countdown-to-2047-what-will-happen-to-hong-kong-quicktake OCTS after 2047

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