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On Thursday, January 16, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said the city’s unique ‘one country, two systems’ status could continue beyond 2047. ‘One country, two systems’ is a legal agreement signed in 1997 between Hong Kong and mainland China.
The system – meant to ensure a smooth transition from colonial rule – is set to expire in 2047. At the time of signing, it was expected that Hong Kong would eventually be reintegrated with the mainland. Under the agreement, Hong Kong is considered a Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR). Although Hong Kong has its own currency, legislature and courts, it is unable to conduct independent foreign affairs or defense.
Signed during the handover of British colonial rule back to China, the agreement allows Hong Kongers certain freedoms that are restricted on the mainland, including freedom of assembly and speech. After years of promised freedoms, many Hong Kongers are seemingly unwilling to give them up.
Perceived encroachment on these liberties from the mainland, however, has spurred widespread public protests in recent years, most notably in 2014 and 2019. The most recent set of protests – still underway – were ignited after Lam’s government had introduced a bill that would allow for the extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China. Although the bill was suspended, other demands surfaced – including calls for an independent investigation into police brutality and universal suffrage.
Loyalty to Beijing
Lam’s remarks were made at a question-and-answer session at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. She made it clear that deference to Beijing would be a prerequisite for maintaining the agreement. She urged the city’s youth to be careful with their actions moving forward. According to Lam, their zeal for protest and fundamental change could be Hong Kong’s undoing. “The scenario they worry about today may be triggered by their own hand,” Lam said.
According to Lam, “loyalty” to the mainland is the only way to salvage Hong Kong’s freedoms. “Only if we insist [on] implementing ‘one country, two systems’ principle and practice it continuously and fully … then I think there will be enough grounds for ‘one country, two systems’ to move ahead smoothly and there would be no change after 2047,” Lam added.
Lam’s comments echo the sentiment from Chinese communist leaders who see the system dependent on a fundamental respect for Chinese sovereignty over the territory. According to recent polls, 59% of Hong Kongers agree with the protests. Only 17%, however, have expressed support for becoming fully independent from the mainland. It is reported that 41% claim they “strongly oppose” Hong Kong independence.
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