Event Summary: ‘The 20th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover’


By: Janjan Sun

On July 3rd by kind invitation of Nigel Evans MP, the Henry Jackson Society hosted Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC, Edward Leung, Dr. Malte Kaeding, and Anson Chan GCMG CBE JP to discuss the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover.

Sir Rifkind began with the assessment that currently we are almost at a half term report on how well ‘one country two systems’ has developed. Of the pluses and the things we should be cheery about, it is an obvious truth that Hong Kong remains different than the rest of China. Hong Kong has a capital system, freedom of speech, rule of law, and other aspects that we associate with a free society. It remains different from any other part of China and people living in Hong Kong have more freedoms than citizens living in other parts of China. This is a substantial thing to say after twenty years. The fundamentals of ‘one country two systems’ has been respected. Of the minuses and the things we should be disturbed about, various attempts have been made (with the knowledge of the Chinese government) to erode the freedom of the people of Hong Kong and to reduce the quality of rule of law. Sir Rifkind emphasized that it is important to remember what was said in the Joint Declaration and Basic Law because it is the foundation and legal basis of what happened in 1997. Sir Rifkind also expressed concern over statements made by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang that that the arrangements during the transitional period expressed in the Joint Declaration are now history and of no practical significance. Kang added that the British have no sovereignty or power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover. Sir Rifkind asserted that the United Kingdom has had a legitimate interest in Hong Kong since 1997 and therefore legitimate obligations and duties. He concluded by stating that he was unhappy by those in Hong Kong advocating for independence. He believes this stance is unrealistic and also gives the Chinese government an excuse for their actions. The British government has a legitimate interest not just now, not just until 1947, but even past that because of a dedication to human rights and democracy.

Nigel Evans MP then introduced Edward Leung as a young Hong Kong activist. Mr Leung ran for election and did very well, although he was not successful he did much better than everyone was expecting, showing the aspirations that many in Hong Kong have. Last February, during the election of the Legislative Council, more than 66,000 people had voted for Edward. This drew the attention of Beijing and when Mr Leung attempted to run again in the general election of the Legislative Council the government suddenly required all candidates to sign an extra document/declaration which only stated certain articles of the authority of Beijing over Hong Kong in Basic Law without any legal consultation beforehand. Mr Leung was also forcibly interrogated on whether he would advocate independence in Hong Kong. He compromised and signed the forms but was still barred from running from office because they said he was not sincere enough. Hong Kong’s democratization was delayed for over a decade and now it is a time of democratic recession because Hong Kong’s elected lawmakers can be removed by Beijing’s interpretation of their constitution. Mr Leung concluded by stating that localism in Hong Kong emerged as a form of resistance to assimilation.

Nigel Evans MP introduced Dr. Malte Kaeding, who is a university lecturer at the University of Surrey and received his PhD from Hong Kong Baptist University. Dr. Kaeding began by challenging the supposed calmness surrounding the handover of Hong Kong. During his studies in Hong Kong in the early 2000s, Dr. Kaeding did not feel that the atmosphere was calm. Over the last decade the situation has become more polarized. This is a direct consequence of China’s policies towards Hong Kong which have been geared towards achieving a certain level of control and ideology. Beijing tried to achieve this control through two ways: institutional by setting up a sort of democracy with Chinese characteristics, and through business links. Although this has been going on for quite some time, recently there has been an open defiance of international standards and treaties. Institutions appear to be democratic but they are actually controlled underground, this is a dangerous development and has coincided with interpretation of the Basic Law. The Chinese control of Hong Kong is very important economically and therefore they are extremely worried over political stability in Hong Kong. If Beijing continues this pressure and does not adjust, one country and two realities are bound to collide.

Nigel Evans MP then introduced the final speaker, Anson Chan. She was the former Chief Secretary in both the British colonial government of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government under Chinese sovereignty. Anson Chan began by expressing her disappointment that the British government had done nothing to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong other than a very short statement. At the very least the British government owes to the people of Hong Kong a frank appraisal on how ‘one country two systems’ has worked in the past twenty years. Ms Chan stated that it can be argued that the British should have introduced ‘one man one vote’ much earlier than they eventually did, Hong Kong didn’t have local elections till 1985. At the time that Deng Xiaoping crafted ‘one country two systems’, there was a view (even within China) that China could eventually move towards democracy. Within the Basic Law there was a frame for ‘one man one vote’ and it made clear that 10 years after the handover the people of Hong Kong could decide on their own how to move towards universal suffrage. Clearly the present reality does not reflect these hopes. ‘One man one vote’ is not just a slogan, there is a practical significance and reality to achieving it. As long as the Hong Kong Chief Executive lacks the necessary political legitimacy, Carrie Lam and her successors will find it extremely difficult to effectively govern Hong Kong. Carrie Lam believes that if she can address income disparity, make housing more affordable, and increase job prospects for younger generations that she can silence the Hong Kong people and then eventually Hong Kong people will forget about democratic reform. Anson Chan concluded by stating that she believes Carrie Lam is wrong and that the Hong Kong people will never stop fighting for universal suffrage. She continued that if the current democratic erosion continues, it will not take long for ‘one country two systems’ to exist only in name.


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