Recent incidents in Hong Kong have further exposed China’s “one country, two systems” formula as a failure, but what exactly went wrong, and could it have been better implemented?
The issue of “one country, two systems” was returned to the forefront in Taiwan after Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in January asserted that Taiwan would eventually be united with China under the system.
Opinion polls showed that 79 percent of Taiwanese rejected the application of the formula to Taiwan, the Mainland Affairs Council said on March 23.
A few weeks later, the council said that the sentencing of demonstrators arrested during Hong Kong’s 2014 “Umbrella movement” protests exposed the shortcomings of the formula and showed that it cannot safeguard Hong Kongers’ political rights.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) last month criticized the implementation of the formula in Hong Kong and said that “even beggars would run away” if it were implemented in the same manner in Taiwan.
The failure of “one country, two systems” was evident in 2014, but arguably it had begun to fail much earlier than that. An article published by Web site China File on June 17, 2015, points to 2003 as a turning point for the territory. China “lost face,” the article said, when close to 1 million Hong Kongers took to the streets to oppose a proposed bill to incorporate the “anti-subversion” Article 23 into the territory’s Basic Law, which they feared would bring about the loss of freedom of speech and other liberties.
China subsequently began to increase control over Hong Kong through its “five-step” process for defining the election of the Hong Kong chief executive, imposed by the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee in 2004, despite its original promise to stay out of Hong Kong’s affairs until 2047, the article said.
Despite its obstinate attitude toward foreign criticism of its involvement in Hong Kong, Beijing is reluctant to exercise too much control over the territory for fear of it losing its special international status, the article said, arguing that Beijing needs Hong Kong to store and funnel money and goods to and from China.
Beijing knows that if “one country, two systems” is ever to succeed in Hong Kong, and potentially in Taiwan, it needs to win over young people who increasingly see themselves as “Hong Kongers” rather than as “Chinese.” This might be common sense, but it can be seen in practical implementation in Macau.
The Portuguese handed over nominal control of Macau to its pro-China residents following protests in 1966, although, when Lisbon tried to hand back the territory to Beijing in 1975 following a 1974 military coup, China said no.
People in Macau today see themselves as “Chinese.” It could also be that the people of Macau “prioritize the economic development China can bring to Macau rather than the maintenance of their civil liberties,” a June 21 report on Web site Foreign Policy said.
The article also refers to Kinmen County as showing how China has successfully won over minds in Taiwan as well. Kinmen County Commissioner Yang Cheng-wu (楊鎮浯) seeks closer integration with China and has told county residents not to oppose “one country, two systems,” the article said.
Nevertheless, surveys show that Taiwanese overwhelmingly reject the formula, and for good reason.