The approval of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link’s co-location arrangements by the National People’s Congress has sparked a new controversy – the go-ahead has been branded by the opposition as another attempt by Beijing to subvert “One Country, Two Systems”.
While there are reasonably argued objections to the scheme, the political reality of Beijing’s control and the inevitability of change in 2047 needs to be recognised. Rather than challenging these facts, there needs to be constructive dialogue on how the 2047 process is going to be executed and how the city’s identity is going to be maintained when it formally becomes part of the mainland.
Many – including the Bar Association, the organisation for the city’s barristers – see the co-location agreement in the West Kowloon terminal as a contravention of the Basic Law, because mainland officers will be able to enforce laws in Hong Kong. The objections are understandable. But, given mainland laws will (in theory) be practised in Hong Kong at some point in the future, we have to question whether these alleged contraventions actually matter. It all boils down to the issue of timing.
Although there are people genuinely concerned about protecting international agreements, and wish for Beijing to conform to them as a matter of principle, it’s more likely they’re objecting to buy time before their “high degree of autonomy” expires. Whether this time should be used to further inward-looking solutions (such as seeking independence), or more practical methods (such as encouraging voluntary reform by the central government), depends on who you ask. What is apparent, however, is that people are not so much concerned as to whether mainland integration happens, but when and in what circumstances it will happen.
This realisation offers us guidance for what we should do now. So far, the discussion about Hong Kong’s autonomy has revolved around an alleged contravention, with Beijing denying it, followed by a war of words in the media. This, as is evident from the mainstream public discourse on the co-location agreement, does not actually address – or even attempt to recognise – the changes that will take place in 2047. No one is saying what they want to achieve in the end, or under what terms Beijing should resume control. It may be all very well for middle-aged politicians who probably won’t have to live with the consequences of the 2047 arrangements, but it is our generation that will bear the brunt of it. Skirting the edges of the issue is a waste of time.
As pointed out by University of Hong Kong constitutional law expert Yash Ghai, it is high time that formal dialogue between Hong Kong and mainland experts takes place to figure out what will happen in 2047. Folding your arms and saying “not now” works well if you’re aiming to milk outrage for your political career, but not if you are expecting to live in Hong Kong in 30 years’ time. Beijing is not unsusceptible to persuasion, and we ought to go about this in an open and friendly manner. Hong Kong needs real solutions, not just political rhetoric, to ensure its continued prosperity.