Pro-Beijing scholar notes “difficult times” in Beijing-HK relations

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Pro-establishment figures note Beijing’s harder line on “one country, two systems” interpretations at Savantas Policy Institute 10-year anniversary event.

Keynote speakers at a Savantas Policy Institute event agreed that the “one country, two systems (OCTS)” principle is at a critical juncture  but will remain the best mechanism to manage Beijing-Hong Kong relations in times to come.

The panel discussion on the development of Beijing-Hong Kong relations was held on 6 June to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Savantas Policy Institute. The line-up featured the institute’s, founder Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (葉劉淑儀), Lau Siu-kai (劉兆佳) from the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing (曾鈺成), and former pan-democratic lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah (湯家驊).

Setting the tone of the discussion, Lau noted that Hong Kong and Beijing had entered into what might be the most difficult time since the handover and called for a better understanding of the central government’s authority and responsibility under OCTS.

“The central government has not commented much on Hong Kong’s issues in the past, leading some to challenge or even deny Beijing’s authority. They believe that Beijing’s power over framing the [Hong Kong] discourse has diminished,” Lau said. “Although Beijing’s white paper discomforted many in Hong Kong, the message it tried to deliver was not much different from what Beijing officials have long insisted.”

Beijing released a white paper on Hong Kong in 2014 that stresses its “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory. Many saw this as the central government’s adoption of a more uncompromising line over Hong Kong policy ahead of the political reform debate.

Lau stated that the recent rise of localism and the Hong Kong independence movement were attempts to catch Beijing’s attention through extremist methods, but he claimed these movements were losing momentum as more people realised that independence was not a feasible option.

Ronny Tong argued that the dispute over interpreting the Basic Law was a mutual misunderstanding intensified by historical and cultural reasons instead of a simple story of Hong Kong people crossing the line. He slammed the chief executive and the Liaison Office for failing to do their jobs and called for the establishment of a civilian communication mechanism to fill a loophole in the existing constitutional framework.

The effectiveness of Tong’s suggestion was, however, challenged by his pro-establishment counterparts, with Ip arguing that elections under a democratic system has complicated OCTS while politicising any good initiative.

Ip, a potential candidate for chief executive in 2017, is expected to run for a Legco seat on Hong Kong Island, while Tong’s Path of Democracy is shooting for three representatives in the legislature.