Understanding the Basic Law for ‘One Country, Two Systems’

World Today

In this May 29, 2017, photo made with a tilt-shift lens, a Chinese national flag and a Hong Kong flag fly above the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong. Under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong retains an independent judiciary, setting it apart from other mainland China. Two decades since Beijing took control of Hong Kong, China’s rising influence – and Britain’s waning profile – are impossible to ignore. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

President Xi spoke of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle during his recent visit to Hong Kong. He said he hopes it continues its progress in the region. But what exactly is this law, and what does it mean for Hong Kong’s development and future?
CGTN’s Zhang Shaoyi explains.

For more than one hundred years, Hong Kong was under British colonial rule, and run by English governors appointed by London. Residents of the island off the coast of China lived under colonial rule, with little say in their own government.

In 1984, China and Britain signed a deal to revert Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. The Chinese National People’s Congress ratified the deal in 1990 and in 1997, Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), a part of China, but with its own way of doing things. The arrangement became known as ‘One Country, Two Systems’.

The Basic Law lays out Hong Kong’s unique political and economic system. The island has a capitalist economy and an independent legal system. The capitalist system is to remain in place until 2047

Even so, one major sticking point remained: the issue of representation. Atop Hong Kong’s government is the chief executive. The central question is how much of a say the people of Hong Kong should have in choosing that leader.

Article 45 of the basic law envisions a central role for the Chinese government:

“The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.” – Basic Law, Article 45

The role of the Chinese Central Government in selecting candidates for the chief executive and the involvement of Hong Kong’s voters in that selection is being debated in region.

Protesters in Hong Kong want a more direct form of democracy. They hope to bypass the selection committee and choose anyone they want as the Chief Executive. The law does not allow for this. Hong Kong authorities have said the protests are illegal.

As the protests fade, talks are scheduled to start on the process to pick a chief executive with the ultimate aim of universal suffrage (i.e. one person, one vote). That system is due to be in place this year.

This year is key in determining how Hong Kong will operate moving forward, but that will only be in place for the next 30 years. The next key date is 2047, the year when “one country, two systems” is due to end.