Foreign Policy Blogs

How Beijing Will Deal with Hong Kong

At the press conference on 14 March 2010, immediately after the close of the National People’s Congress annual session (NPC, China’s legislature and highest state body), Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao discussed Hong Kong. The speech came in the wake of a stormy political debate over the slow progress towards universal suffrage that has seen clashes between police and activists at large demonstrations.

According to Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law (or the Constitution of Hong Kong), the ultimate aim is to select the chief executive (Article 45) and the members of the legislature (Article 68) by universal suffrage. The specifics for determining when and how to achieve this goal, however, remain contentious. Up until 26 April 2004, the electoral law could be amended to allow for universal suffrage as early as 2007 (Hong Kong Basic Law Annex 1, section 7). On 26 April 2004, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress denied the possibility of universal suffrage in 2007 for the chief executive and 2008 for the legislature. The NPC stated that it planned to allow the 2017 chief executive elections and the 2020 legislative council elections to take place by universal suffrage. The exact timetable remains to be drawn up.

In Hong Kong, the legislature consists of 60 seats. Thirty representatives are directly elected by universal suffrage in five geographically demarcated constituencies. The other 30 are elected by the controversial functional constituencies consisting of professional or special interest groups and corporations. The business corporations, for instance, tend to be pro-Beijing as they rely on favorable economic and financial policies from the leaders at the top echelons of political power.

To the dismay of Beijing, five Hong Kong legislators have resigned last January to force a series of by-elections in May of this year, which they say will be a de facto referendum on democracy. They claimed that the by-elections, to fill one vacant office in each of the five geographical constituencies, can serve as a de facto referendum on universal suffrage and the abolishment of the functional constituencies.

Wen’s discussion of Hong Kong is remarkable because this is the first official reaction to recent political conflicts in the region, showing Beijing’s willingness to address political issues in front of the international press. Wen’s five-point policy speech also provided official policy guidance addressing economic, political and social strategies that Hong Kong, as a special administrative region (SAR), ought to focus on. In general terms, this policy guidance is for SAR governments to follow as a means to avoid second guessing the central government in Beijing. Three out of five points deal with the economy, reflecting Beijing’s view that Hong Kong should focus on economic development and that political development, while on the agenda, should not be the main focus.

In terms of the economy, Wen argued that Hong Kong should concentrate on its current edge in financial and shipping sectors and take advantage of its trading center status. Second, the region should continue to focus on its comparative advantage with respect to the service industries. Third, in the process of drafting the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, Hong Kong should develop its close economic ties, mutual assistance and benefit with the vast mainland market and rapid economic development. In particular, the region should strengthen its ties with the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region, a leading economic region and major manufacturing center of China. The Chinese government hopes that the manufacturing in the PRD region, combined with the financial and service economy and capitalistic influence in Hong Kong, will create an economic gateway attracting foreign capital throughout mainland China. Cooperation with the South include the construction of cross-boundary infrastructural facilities between Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, one of China’s original special economic zones.

The fourth point regards the gradual and orderly development of democratic politics as stipulated in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution promulgated by the NPC. Wen suggested strongly that people in Hong Kong must be united for the long-term development and success of Hong Kong, implying that political development should be implemented but only one step at a time under Beijing’s supervision. The final point concerns the improvement of Hong Kong people’s livelihood and educational system.

Summing up, a special administrative region under a one-party state system has as specified, only special administrative functions. Hong Kong’s strengths remain in the economic sphere and the implementation of the rule of law, just as they were under British rule. Politically, it is still and will continue to be strictly and directly supervised by Beijing. Where political adjustments are made, they are made in an attempt to convince the people of Taiwan that the CCP is willing to tolerate some degree of difference.



Jessica Hun

Jessica Hun is a graduate of University of Oxford and University of Pennsylvania who is trained in law and politics. Her special interests are contemporary Chinese politics, developments in intellectual property law and property rights and international relations, especially in regard to China.

Area of Focus
Womens Issues; Gender Relations; China