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Hong Kong must integrate while maintaining its uniqueness

ON FRIDAY THIS WEEK, this city will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Looking back on the past quarter century after returning to the governance of mainland China, Hong Kong has often been praised as the showcase of the ground-breaking “One Country, Two Systems” concept, proposed by China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping. This was essentially an unprecedented experiment for the smooth and peaceful reunification of Hong Kong with Mainland China.

But how has Hong Kong done so far in implementing the concept and leveraging the opportunities inherent in the “One Country, Two Systems” policy?

CORNERSTONE OF SUCCESS

“One Country, Two Systems” has been the cornerstone of the success of Hong Kong over the past 25 years. The successful implementation of the principle ensured that the city retains its distinct identity and strengths as an international business, financial, shipping and aviation centre.

It is a brilliant transition arrangement to ensure the four pillars of Hong Kong’s success. They remain as relevant and vital today as they did 10, 15 or 20 years ago. These are:

  • The common law system upheld by an independent judiciary
  • The free and unfettered flow of information
  • A level playing field for business, and
  • A clean, respected civil service.

EVOLVING CONCEPT

With 25 years of implementation, the essence of “One Country, Two Systems” remains unchanged, but the policy has continued to evolve, enhance itself and become enriched over the years, catering to the actual needs and situation of Hong Kong.

This is how it should be. “One Country, Two Systems” should not be a set of pre-set principles but rather an evolving direction that guides Hong Kong through rain and thunder.

However, coupled with the complex regional geopolitical circumstances and different monumental national developments, it is high time to rethink the framework of “One Country, Two Systems” and Hong Kong’s position in the country and region.

CHANGING EMPHASIS

The general public has been viewing the importance of the “Two Systems” within “One Country”. Indeed, such emphasis settled the anxiety of the stakeholders of different industries in the first ten years and offered confidence to investors and business communities that Hong Kong would continue to thrive as an international business, financial, shipping and aviation centre in the years to come.

However, as the different significant and major national strategies are coming into action, one should not overlook the linkage between Hong Kong and Mainland China and, most notably, the essence of keeping Hong Kong as the super-connector for the West to the East and the East to the West. 

OUTLINE PLAN IS AN OPPORTUNITY

The Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is an exciting opportunity for Hong Kong. The development of the Greater Bay Area is accorded the status of critical strategic planning in the country’s development blueprint.

Like the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Integrated Development Plan and the Yangtze River Economic Belt, the Outline Plan provides a spatial layout featuring the nine municipalities and two Special Administrative Regions for the coordinated development in the region. The Outline Plan offers a holistic plan at the national level, which further facilitates collaborative development to open up on all fronts.

Regional integration helps cities overcome divisions that impede the flow of goods, services, capital, people and ideas. These divisions constrain economic growth, especially for fast-paced economies competing for clients and resources.

Integration allows countries to overcome costly divisions in overlapped infrastructure and inefficient policies and integrates goods, and services, thus facilitating the flow of trade, capital, energy, talents and ideas. 

Shenzhen is the fastest growing city in the world. Photo by Darmau Lee on Unsplash

COLLABORATION IS KEY

When we talk about regional cooperation, we often talk about collaboration between countries, where a standard level of policy commitment and shared sovereignty over infrastructure are usually lacking. Fortunately, under the Outline Plan, Hong Kong can work hand in hand with other municipalities and Macau with a unanimous goal, but each community doing what it is proficient at.

Hong Kong has a shared border with Guangdong province and with Shenzhen, the fastest growing city in the world. As showcased in different endeavours, we in Hong Kong could put our uniqueness fully into play by having an extraordinary impact in the region in the legal, innovative technology and financial sector.

In contrast, the different cities in the area could provide top-notch talent and markets. Under the Outline Plan, Hong Kong does not have to worry about infrastructure connectivity or shared sovereignty. We are well-connected with different regional municipalities, notably with the seven land-based control points, terminals running frequent ferries, and an international airport flying to almost all major cities in Mainland China. Most importantly, we are all under “One Country”.

STEPS TO TAKE

Hong Kong, however, needs to take many steps forward to blossom under the Outline Plan and fully utilize our unique status of “Two Systems” under the “One Country”. While the Outline Plan provides the framework to strengthen regional cooperation, incoherent policies and incompatible standards would hamper the long-term development of the GBA.

The Hong Kong Government should therefore ride the wave of the Outline Plan and actively seek collaboration with our neighbours in all directions. The “Two Systems” should not constrain collaboration”. Institutional cooperation in the Greater Bay Area regarding policy, standards, professional qualifications, and so on, will further benefit Hong Kong and different municipalities within the Outline Plan. “One Country, Two Systems” should advance further for regional integration to mitigate the connectivity gaps in different markets of various sectors.

DEFINED BY UNIQUENESS

“One Country, Two Systems” is not defined by tight border control but by the uniqueness of Hong Kong’s system. Attempts to set new standards and governance structures within the Greater Bay Area, with the intention to capture the market potential of the ASEAN countries and those along the Belt and Road, are necessary.

Hong Kong and other municipalities in the Greater Bay Area should put the associated infrastructure required to support the enhancement of the Greater Bay Area for serving and strengthening such a role in place as soon as possible. The city should join forces to tap into new markets alongside our Greater Bay Area neighbours.

Only by doing that can Hong Kong genuinely showcase the essence of “One Country, Two Systems” and continue to thrive as one of the finest cosmopolitan cities in China and the world for another 25 years.


Andrew Lam is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council


Photo at the top by Manson Yim on Unsplash

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