Last Friday night, I was invited to the official welcome banquet for President Xi Jinping, who was visiting Hong Kong to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover.
When President Xi addressed the guests at the banquet, he urged the people of Hong Kong to embrace the “three beliefs” — belief in themselves, belief in Hong Kong, and belief in their country.
I guess the “three beliefs” stemmed from Xi’s confidence in the economic achievements of the mainland and Hong Kong.
True, China has achieved enormous and internationally acclaimed success in its economic reforms, and Hong Kong has also remained a global trade and financial hub widely recognized by the rest of the world.
However, trust between the people and the state is not necessarily built on how good or how bad the economy is, nor is economic performance the only factor that determines whether people would have faith in their government.
On the other hand, I also believe that trust between the people and the state should be mutual. Therefore, while President Xi urged Hong Kong people to embrace the “three beliefs”, I would also like to urge Beijing to embrace the “two beliefs” simultaneously.
The first thing Beijing should believe in is the fact that the vast majority of the people of Hong Kong are rational; and the second thing is that the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong citizens are still willing to support “one country, two systems”.
However, given the fact that Hong Kong and the mainland are fundamentally different from each other in terms of culture, values, ideology, as well as social and political systems, there has been a strong desire among Hongkongers to preserve the unique character of their city and their existing way of life.
Apparently, former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping was well aware of such a desire. That is why he proposed the ground-breaking idea of “one country two systems” and then concluded the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 and registered the treaty with the United Nations to reassure the people of Hong Kong that their civil rights and their way of life would remain unchanged after 1997.
As long as Beijing continues to stick to the original intention of “one country, two systems” and strictly abides by the Basic Law, by no means the people of Hong Kong would lose their trust in the state.
Unfortunately, several recent moves by Beijing seemed to suggest otherwise, thereby giving rise to concerns among the people of Hong Kong over whether the central government under President Xi is still committed to preserving “one country, two systems”.
For example, on the same day President Xi called upon the people of Hong Kong to embrace the “three beliefs”, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry in Beijing told the media in a routine press conference that the Sino-British Joint Declaration is a historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning today, nor is it still legally binding as a treaty for both the Chinese government and the HKSAR administration.
Yet, the truth is, what the foreign ministry said could have violated Article 159 of the Basic Law, which says any amendment to the Basic Law must not contradict the established guiding principles that govern Beijing’s overall policy towards Hong Kong.
And those established guiding principles, according to the second paragraph of the preamble of the Basic Law, have been clearly laid down in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
In other words, the Joint Declaration provides the legal basis for the entire Basic Law, and as long as the Basic Law remains in effect, so does the Sino-British Joint Declaration, not to mention the fact that it is an international treaty registered with the United Nations.
How could President Xi expect the people of Hong Kong to believe in the state when Beijing is blatantly breaching its treaty obligations?
I believe the best way to enhance Hong Kong people’s trust in the state is for Beijing to allow them a high degree of autonomy and genuine democracy on one hand, and to comply with international treaty obligations on the other.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 6
Translation by Alan Lee
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