28 June 2019
Since its return to Chinese sovereignty 22 years ago, Hong Kong has been governed by the “one country, two systems” framework, under which it enjoys a high degree of autonomy and practises separate economic, legal, and social systems from those of China. The framework is underpinned by the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty, and elaborated in Hong Kong’s post-handover constitutional document, the Basic Law. The framework has been considered a constitutional experiment: it seeks to preserve a liberal pocket within a socialist party state, an ambition that is unprecedented. That experiment has not been plain sailing. The tensions between Leninist authoritarian and liberal constitutionalist ideas within the framework have been manifested at the social, institutional, and constitutional levels, calling into question the viability of maintaining two such highly divergent visions of constitutionalism within one sovereign roof on a long-term basis.1)
Until June 2019, the largest demonstrations seen in post-handover Hong Kong were the 2003 demonstrations against the introduction of a national security law and the 2014 protests against Beijing’s refusal to grant genuine universal suffrage, the latter of which became known internationally as the “Umbrella Movement”. Both were responses to Beijing’s attempts to curb Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms to protect its own broad conceptions of sovereignty and security. Both revolved around constitutional questions that go to the heart of whether it is possible to sustain Hong Kong’s liberal status while maintaining Chinese sovereignty. The saga over the Hong Kong government’s proposed legislative amendments to the territory’s extradition laws (“the Bill” hereafter), which led to even larger demonstrations in June, therefore seems atypical of what generally sparks large-scale civil resistance in Hong Kong: it was not a contest between China’s perceived core interests and those of Hong Kong. The Bill was not imposed by China, and does not affect its perceived sovereign prerogatives over Hong Kong. On its face, the Bill (which Beijing supports but has expressly disclaimed ownership of) was introduced to tackle the problem of fugitives from mainland China, Taiwan, and elsewhere hiding out in Hong Kong. The substance of the dispute does not pertain to the viability of the “one country, two systems” governing model. The way in which the saga unfolded, however, reveals flaws in Hong Kong’s political system that, if unrectified, may prove fatal to the model. In this commentary, I first evaluate whether the Bill contains sufficient human rights safeguards, and then analyse why democracy is needed to sustain the “one country, two systems” model... Click here to read the full post.