Hong Kong – A Second System in One Single Country
AbstractBefore handing over Hong Kong to Chinese administration, Beijing promised that “in Hong Kong the Hong Kongers will govern”. The essay evaluates to what extent Chinese promises have been kept. It deals with two aspects of the new arrangement: 1) the sharing of power over a “special admbzistrative region” between Hong Kong and Beijing, 2) the political system within Hong Kong itself.
Under the Joint Declaration, Hong Kong retained many of its own attributes which distinguish it from the rest of the Chinese People’s Republic. The economic sphere is in many ways autonomous since China is anxious that it should function properly. But autonomy is questionable in practically all fundamental spheres of the political administration. This goes for the courts, legislative and executive power. Beijing is trying to keep in the background and maintain an appearance of autonomy but in reality it is gradually preparing the effective control of the whole administrative structure which it is able to use should developments in the region go beyond its concepts. The first year of the Chinese administration of Hong King has been astonishingly unspectacular. True, conditions are slowly being tightened up, but there has been no outrageous instance of repression by the state, the suppression of human rights, arrests, etc. The calm development has been helped by the situation in Beijing which, after the accession of Jiang Zemin, has experienced the biggest “thaw” since 1989. But in the autumn of 1998 it became clear that this was yet another of the regular cyclic phases of “relaxation – tightening”. And it is possible that a certain cooling down will appear also in Hong Kong.
Beijing also exercised a decisive influence on the formulation of the constitutional Basic Law and on the establishment of a new political system. The government was made up of representatives of elite business circles with whom Beijing had been collaborating when taking over power. Alliance with business circles is part of the strategy of a “united front” to suppress the democratic opposition. The balance of power is considerably tilted in favour of the executive, and practices so far demonstrate that Prime Minister Tung Cheehua consistently bypasses Parliament in his decision-making.
In the 1998 elections, the forces of the democratic opposition won 60% of the votes but under direct elections only one-third of the Legislative Council is appointed. Although the democrats clearly won the elections, their parliamentary mandates do not allow them to interfere in government policy.
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