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On Thursday 16th January 19, 2020, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive leader, Carrie Lam stated that the special status that was given to Hong Kong in 1997 by Britain, can be sustained beyond 2047.
The special status symbol of “one country, two systems” framework by which China governs Hong Kong, gives the region a high level of autonomy on paper, the status was given for a period of 50 years by Britain when the territory was handed over to China in 1997. The constitution of Hong Kong does not mention the fate of the principle beyond 2047.
Lam made it evident that the people of Hong Kong need to wear their loyalty to Beijing on their sleeve. This statement came as a final warning to those who have been protesting the affiliation of Hong Kong to China and wanting an independent country.
Lam’s comments echo the language of China’s Communist Party leaders. The pro-democratic lawmakers shouted and raised several questions along with calling Lam to resign. As a result, the lawmakers were ordered to leave the council hall for repeatedly interrupting Lam.
What is the status?
According to Article 31 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong has a Special Administrative Region status by which the policy of “one country, two systems” is implemented. The Special Administrative Region can have different political and economic systems from that of China. Hong Kong’s constitution which is the basic law was approved in March 1990 by the People’s Republic of China and came into force upon transfer of sovereignty on 1st July 1997.
This status guarantees specific liberties to Hong Kong which are not available to China such as freedom of speech and expression. Under this status, Hong Kong enjoys a high level of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs. Hong Kong has this special status for a period of 50 years, which would be ending in the year 2047 but might get extended as hinted by the Leader of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam.
Why was it granted?
The main motive of administering Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) under the One Country Two System principle, was to maintain the sovereignty of the territory to Beijing. The policy was proposed by Deng Xiaoping with the idea of unifying China and Taiwan under the policy but Taiwan rejected the offer.
The island has been run as a separate entity from China, nevertheless, Beijing never gave up its claim over Taiwan. The 5th session of the 5th National People’s Congress amended the constitution to include Article 31 by which the Country (China) can establish Special Administrative Regions (SARs) when necessary.
Currently, Hong Kong and Macau have been established as Special Administrative Regions and enjoy certain liberties that China does not. China needs Hong Kong even though China has extensive capital controls, Hong Kong is one of the most open economies in the world and one of the biggest markets for equity and debt financing.
Its salient features
The following are the features of the special status summed up-
- The special status grants liberties which are unavailable on the mainland, such as an independent judiciary and freedom of expression.
- A special status internationally which allows the territory to negotiate trade and investment agreements independently from Beijing. Hong Kong is unaffected by the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, the territory does not have to pay any tariffs imposed by the United States on China. This increases investor faith since China’s legal system is heavily influenced by the Communist party.
With the ongoing pro-democracy protests, Hong Kong’s economic and political future gloom concern as protests drag on and have even turned violent on many occasions, while China makes it clear that forceful intervention is possible.
The protests have been going on due to continuous intervention by China, influencing various policies that have plagued the autonomy of the territory. The protestors demand the resignation of the Chief Executive Leader, Carrie Lam due to her political affiliations with the People’s Republic of China.
The special status of Hong Kong ends in 2047 officially, completing 50 years but recent claims by Carrie Lam hint that the special status could continue beyond 2047. If the same is finalized along with the continuous interference of China into the territory, there are high chances of protests escalating and China intervening to stop them as well.
The day of July 1 used to be celebrated as Hong Kong was handed over by the British but now witnesses a huge protest every year. While the special status has its advantages on paper, providing free trade and better business opportunities, continuous intervention by the mainland has errored the tag of “special”.
The special status was given to Hong Kong so that it could have complete autonomy in certain areas but that is evidently changing. There is a heavy influence from the Communist Party of China according to which decisions are being made in the territory.
The Leader of the territory is backed by the mainland as well and tabling bills that speak the language of the Communist Party. Heavy protests are still taking place and it is only a matter of time before China officially gets involved.
The impact of China getting involved would have an impact internationally and the advantages of Hong Kong’s special status would unravel as investors would seek other highly-respected legal systems and low-tax financial centers. Carrie Lam’s recent remark about extending the special status beyond 2047 could stir up some issues again.
With pro-democracy lawmakers being asked to leave the council chamber for going against Carrie Lam, it is only a matter a time the same is done to the protestors as well. With the extradition bill taken back, the protestors are relieved that even if they are put behind bars, they won’t be sent to China where rights of the accused, especially those who speak up against the current government, are unknown.
The protests evidently don’t seem to subside, it looks like a long fight for the people of Hong Kong but with the Communist Party of China involved, the scope for formal dialogue between the government and its people is bleak.
Author: Mohsin Rahim from O.P Jindal Global University, Sonipat.
Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala