Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that capitalism can only continue beyond 2047 if city residents, especially the younger generation, uphold the “one country, two systems” model.
The chief executive said attacking Beijing’s governing principle, which gives the city a high degree of autonomy, put its liberal economic model at risk in the long run.
The agreement between Britain and China for the 1997 handover guaranteed the retention of Hong Kong’s legal, financial and political systems for 50 years.
In her first question and answer session of the year at the Legislative Council, Lam said: “I want to tell the young people, who were mostly born after the handover, to treasure one country, two systems … instead of bringing damage to this important system due to misunderstanding.
“Otherwise, they will be creating the situation that they are in fact worried about today.”
She added that the principle ensured the city’s younger generation grew up, and were educated, in a stable and prosperous environment.
Lam was responding to a question by pro-establishment lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai-wan, who said the city’s youth were anxious about their future beyond 2047.
Under Article 5 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, Beijing promised that Hong Kong’s capitalist way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“After 2047, would it become ‘one country, one system’? How would you convince young people that it will still be one country, two systems by then?” Chiang asked.
Lam said full understanding and implementation of the principle would give “sufficient ground” for people to believe that Beijing’s existing policy would extend beyond 2047.
“We must defend the foundation of ‘one country’ and respect the differences between ‘two systems’. Only with that can one country, two systems progress forward,” Lam said.
“If everyone treasured one country, two systems, I don’t see that worry [of whether it would continue beyond 2047].”
In her opening speech, Lam said the political crisis had brought “shocking” levels of violence and destruction to the city.
“Numerous inaccurate reports and fake information circulated online has seriously damaged Hong Kong’s international reputation for peace, rationality, safety and lawfulness,” Lam said.
The chief executive also said she was worried about businesses closing and employees being fired after the Lunar New Year holiday, but said she believed the economy could recover if social order returned.
Lam said the government was close to establishing an independent review committee to look into deep-seated divisions in society and the causes of the ongoing unrest.
The identity of committee members would be revealed next month, she added.
During Lam’s speech, pan-democrats protested from their seats.
The city’s leader had earlier rejected a popular demand from the public to set up an independent, judge-led probe into police’s use of force during the protests.
Other unmet demands from the anti-government movement include amnesty for those arrested and a revival of the city’s stalled political reform process.