Since Hong Kong was handed over to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997, the government of the former British colony has aligned itself with Beijing’s agenda of nationalism and economic expansion. One of the cornerstones of the Communist Party’s policy is the ‘One-China Principle‘, the unification of China with Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
At a conference celebrating the 30th anniversary of the beginning of cross-strait exchanges, entitled “Two Sides of the Straits, One Family – The Common China Dream”, incumbent Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa endorsed Beijing’s policy of unification with Taiwan.
The conference was also attended by Zhang Zhijun, Minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, Zhang Xiaoming, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Yu Muming, a Taiwanese politician of the pro-unification New Party, among others.
In her speech Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam emphasized Hong Kong’s role as a bridge between mainland China and Taiwan. “Ever since the situation of isolation between the two sides of the Strait ended in 1987, and cross-strait exchanges entered a new historical phase, Hong Kong has used its unique position to become an important channel for the people of Taiwan to go to the mainland to visit family, to travel, to do business and invest,” she said, adding that Hong Kong is “a platform for cross-strait exchanges, a window for dialogue, a bridge for co-operation.”
Lam said that over the past 30 years Hong Kong has taken “important actions” to promote “cross-strait exchanges, co-operation and key political talks” as well as “to improve and develop cross-strait relations”.
The Chief Executive stressed Hong Kong-Taiwan economic and tourist co-operation, mentioning the large number of Taiwanese companies that operate in Hong Kong. “In 2016 over two million Taiwan residents visited Hong Kong. They were the second-largest group of visitors after mainland residents,” she said, adding that around 50,000 “Taiwan compatriots” live and work in Hong Kong.
Former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, who is currently serving as Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said that “the future of both Hong Kong and Taiwan is with mainland [China].” He stated Hong Kong has “implemented ‘one country, two systems'”, a formula which provides the “direct and right” path towards unification between mainland China and Taiwan.
He urged the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan’s pro-independence party, to “adapt to the circumstances” and “not to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people on both sides of the Strait and not to harm the great cause of the Chinese nation.” He added that the DDP should “stop its separatist activities” and “go back on the right track of cross-strait peace and development.”
In the 1980s Tung Chee-hwa, whose shipping empire faced bankruptcy, was generously bailed out by China and became a loyal supporter of the Chinese Communist Party. Taiwan, which had been close to the Tung family, had denied to rescue his company.
Although it retains a high degree of autonomy from the central government, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is subordinate to Beijing. According to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the central government appoints “the Chief Executive and the principal officials of the executive authorities” (Article 15) and has “the power of interpretation” of the Basic Law (Article 158).
Moreover, while the laws of the People’s Republic of China do not apply to the HKSAR, the central government “may issue an order applying the relevant national laws in the Region” in the event of war, of “turmoil” which “endangers national unity or security” or if it decides that the Region is “in a state of emergency” (Article 18).
The ‘one country, two systems’ framework ensures that there are no checks and balances on the Communist authorities. Hong Kong’s autonomy is granted by Beijing and not enforceable by independent powers. The only real check on the Communist Party’s might was the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which China has recently dismissed as “of no practical significance.”
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