General Secretary Xi Jinping said in his report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China that the “one country, two systems” principle must be fully and accurately carried out by firmly maintaining the right to exercise overall jurisdiction over the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao vested in the Central People’s Government by the nation’s Constitution and the Basic Laws of the SARs, and integrating it organically with the SARs’ high degree of autonomy. This is to ensure the “one country, two systems” principle will never change or waver and exercise of “one country, two systems” will never go astray or lose its form.
In that part of the report the fact that the central government holds the right to maintain overall jurisdiction over the two SARs was previously mentioned in a white paper — “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in the HKSAR” — issued by the State Council in June 2014; while the part about maintaining the central government’s right of overall jurisdiction over Hong Kong and Macao and the latter two’s high degree of autonomy simultaneously and organically was made public for the first time.
Not surprisingly the opposition camp in Hong Kong cried foul and accused central authorities of revising “one country, two systems”; while some local residents expressed fear that the central government’s overall jurisdiction would “squeeze” Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.
The opposition camp is controlled by its anti-communism and anti-central-government standing, to the point it opposes central authorities no matter what. As for those Hong Kong residents worried about the SAR’s high degree of autonomy, their fear is caused by misunderstanding of the Basic Law and can be wiped away with proper reasoning.
First of all, the founding of the HKSAR and its high degree of autonomy are derived from the country’s sovereignty and authorized by the nation’s Constitution. The HKSAR’s high degree of autonomy is not given by a foreign entity or independent from the central government’s overall jurisdiction over Hong Kong but rather under the central government’s overall jurisdiction.
It is a basic overall relationship. This relation between the giver and receiver of autonomy already demonstrates the central authorities’ overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR and the latter’s high degree of autonomy are “organically linked together”. Xi’s report might have been the first opportunity for the relationship to appear in the public eye this way but it has always existed in the Basic Law along with the “one country, two systems” principle.
That is why the relationship between the central government and HKSAR, as dictated by the Basic Law, can only be “organically linked”. For example, the Basic Law stipulates the central government handles all foreign relations and national defense matters concerning the HKSAR by default but the SAR government can handle certain foreign relations and national defense matters with specific authorization by the central government.
The Basic Law also stipulates the HKSAR’s high degree of autonomy covers the economy, people’s livelihood and education as well as the SAR government’s daily operations but that does not mean the central government cannot concern itself with such matters.
For starters, matters concerning the bearing of Hong Kong’s economic development, social stability-related policies and measures taken by the SAR government are no doubt within the SAR government’s jurisdiction as authorized by the Constitution and the Basic Law but the central government simply cannot ignore such matters. The primary command of “one country, two systems” is to protect the nation’s sovereignty, security, development interests and Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability. As foreign relations and national defense matters concerning the HKSAR are of vital importance to the sovereignty, security and development interests of the nation, it is a matter of course for central authorities to handle them directly. For the same reason the central government must keep a close eye on Hong Kong’s constitutional development at all times, lest it goes astray. Does anyone believe the central government should have done nothing to help Hong Kong when its economy was in dire crises over the years but has never said it out loud? No, because no one is that stupid.
The truth about “one country, two systems” is that the central government maintaining overall jurisdiction over Hong Kong will not weaken the SAR’s high degree of autonomy or its wish to exercise it to the full. On the contrary, the central government is always there to support the SAR government and make sure the latter’s lawful administration stays on the right track and is free of major mistakes.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, November 8, 2017)