Hong Kong CE Carrie Lam. Picture: AFP/PHILIP FONG
Hong Kong CE Carrie Lam. Picture: AFP/PHILIP FONG

Hong Kong — Hong Kong’s leader said China could continue guaranteeing the city its separate freedoms under the “one country, two systems” principle after it expires in 2047.

“My view is that, as long as we insist on the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, with the in-depth implementation of the principle and ample understanding, which fits the interests of Hong Kong citizens, then there is sufficient reason to believe that ‘one country, two systems’ will be practised smoothly in the long term, and will not be changed after 2047,” CEO Carrie Lam told legislators at a question-and-answer session at the city’s Legislative Council on Thursday.

The comments are some of Lam’s most detailed statements on the long-term political future of the former British colony, which was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 on the promise that Beijing would leave its capitalist economy and political freedoms untouched for 50 years. They echoed those made by China’s government in recent years.

During a 2017 visit to the financial hub marking the anniversary of its handover, President Xi Jinping said he hoped for the “smooth and long-term successful practice” of “one country, two systems”, according to Hong Kong’s pro-China newspaper Wen Wei Po.

Uncertain future

Anxiety and fear about Hong Kong’s political future under an increasingly authoritarian administration in Beijing have fuelled seven months of violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, initially triggered by since-scrapped legislation over extraditions to the mainland.

Once the 50-year time period expires in 2047, China is under no obligation to continue permitting Hong Kong to keep separate freedoms — including a free media and the right to protest — that make the city distinct from the mainland. Protesters and pro-democracy legislators have frequently accused China of undermining the promises the country’s leaders made to Britain before the handover in 1997 and envision a bleak future beyond 2047, in which Hong Kong is treated like any other Chinese city.

Some pro-establishment legislators have argued that violent protests in favour of greater democracy are likely to make Beijing feel threatened, and less likely to continue guaranteeing Hong Kong’s separate freedoms after 2047.

Luo Huining, the new director of China’s liaison office in the city, said on Wednesday that Hong Kong’s people should place their hope in “one country, two systems”.

If the system is implemented well, “Hong Kong will win development opportunities and earn room for growth,” he said. If it isn’t, “there will be non-stop conflicts and chaos”.

Bloomberg