Since China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, local society has always attached great importance to comments by central government leaders on the exercise of “one country, two systems” in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, especially after the central leadership changed its lineup. For example, after the mass protest on July 1, 2003 in Hong Kong, the central government authorities adjusted handling of Hong Kong affairs and put one of the key leaders in charge, drawing even more attention in Hong Kong society to the practice of “one country, two systems”. Not surprisingly some Hong Kong residents immediately noticed Premier Li Keqiang omitted such terms as “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and “a high degree of autonomy” when delivering the Government Work Report at the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing on Monday. Observers also noted the report devoted fewer words to Hong Kong affairs than last year’s version did.
Do fewer words on Hong Kong mean central government authorities attach less importance to the HKSAR now? No. Does the absence of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and “a high degree of autonomy” indicate these policies discontinue? No. Those who truly understand Chinese politics would know it is the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China that makes guiding principles and general policies for handling Hong Kong and Macao affairs. One will find the ultimate proof of this practice in soon-to-be-revised Article 1(2) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which maintains that leadership by the CPC is the most essential hallmark of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The 19th National Congress of the CPC in Beijing last October determined that “maintaining ‘one country, two systems’ and advancing national reunification” is an integral part of the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era; and maintaining long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macao as well as achieving complete reunification of the motherland is a natural requirement of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We must combine maintaining the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR and Macao SAR with ensuring the autonomy of the two SARs cohesively to make sure the “one country, two systems” principle will never change or waver and the practice of “one country, two systems” will never go astray. The work report this year retained that tone on Hong Kong and Macao affairs.
Naturally, this year’s report is equally worthy of our attention in terms of Hong Kong and Macao affairs. For starters, Li spoke highly of the achievements in handling Hong Kong and Macao affairs in the past five years. He added that the practice of “one country, two systems” has been developing and maturing.
In the past five years there were two milestones in terms of continuous development and maturing of the practice of “one country, two systems” — the NPC Standing Committee’s Aug 31, 2014 announcement on the method of selecting the HKSAR chief executive by universal suffrage and of returning the Legislative Council in 2016; and the NPCSC’s interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law announced on Nov 7, 2016. Those milestones pointed the way for the HKSAR to thwart attempts by the opposition camp to seize jurisdiction over Hong Kong by hijacking constitutional reform, and contain the spread of separatism disguised as “self-determination”. The NPCSC moves also improved the system of exercising “one country, two systems”. It is after winning those two political campaigns that the 19th National Congress of the CPC reached the decision to combine maintaining the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR and Macao SAR with ensuring their high degree of autonomy cohesively to ensure the “one country, two systems” principle will never change or waver.
Li also said in the report: “We will continue to fully and accurately exercise the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in strict accordance with the Constitution and the basic laws.”
The key to fully and accurately exercising the “one country, two systems” principle lies in strictly following the Constitution and basic laws. It is in keeping with combining the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR and Macao SAR with ensuring their high degree of autonomy cohesively. Zhao Leji, a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee, said at a March 4 meeting with Hong Kong and Macao delegates to the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that sovereign rule China resumed over Hong Kong in 1997 is complete with overall jurisdiction over the city. The Constitution of the PRC stipulates in Article 31: The State may establish special administrative regions when necessary. Systems to be instituted in SARs shall be prescribed by law enacted by the NPC in the light of specific conditions. That means the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the SARs is the source of their high degree of autonomy. They must not be separated or set against each other. While exercising “one country, two systems” we must understand the constitutional status of the SARs and where their powers come from; and keep in mind the high degree of autonomy the HKSAR and Macao SAR enjoy is simply power to handle regional affairs authorized and supervised by central government authorities, not complete autonomy. Any attempt to reject, oppose or erode the central government’s overall jurisdiction over the SARs in the name of “high degree of autonomy” will not be tolerated anyhow, much less to harm country’s sovereignty, national security and development interests.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, March 7, 2018)