Days to the General Election: 19
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.

China’s “one country, two systems” model for governing Hong Kong is failing. The Chinese state, built on a rigid millennia-old paradigm of political order, cannot cope with any deviation or conflict

China’s “one country, two systems” model for governing Hong Kong is failing. The Chinese state, built on a rigid millennia-old paradigm of political order, cannot cope with any deviation or conflict

China’s “one country, two systems” formula in Hong Kong is failing miserably. After more than six months of large-scale pro-democracy protests – including violent clashes with police – the city’s voters dealt a powerful blow in November to pro-mainland parties, which lost 87% of seats to pro-democracy rivals in district council elections.

The significance of that election should not be underestimated. While district councils have little power, they select some of the 1,200 electors who choose Hong Kong’s chief executive. In the next election, pro-democracy parties will fill nearly 10% of those seats.

The election also had important symbolic implications. District councils are elected in a fully democratic process (compared to only half the seats in Hong Kong’s legislative council). With an impressive 71% turnout, the election was widely seen as a vote of no confidence in the embattled China-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam.

Some of Hong Kong’s people have lost faith in the prospect of maintaining their democracy within the “one country, two systems” scheme. This is reflected in growing demands for independence, which were never heard during 155 years of British rule. While independence remains a fringe idea – owing partly to recognition of China’s uncompromising stand on territorial integrity – almost no one under the age of 30 in Hong Kong identifies exclusively as Chinese.

A similar backlash against mainland China is now also occurring in Taiwan. Having enjoyed de facto independence since 1949, Taiwan was supposed to be drawn back into the Chinese fold by the “one country, two systems” model. But that model’s failure in Hong Kong has hardened anti-China sentiment, and turned many voters away from the pan-Blue political parties, which favor closer ties with the mainland.

This represents a significant shift from last year’s midterm elections, when the Blue Kuomintang party secured several key victories over the ruling, pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. In fact, that outcome was probably less about desiring closer ties with China than about delivering a sharp rebuke to the DPP.

Indeed, after Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his 2019 New Year speech, urged Taiwan to follow in Hong Kong’s footsteps, President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP revived her popularity by reasserting Taiwan’s sovereignty. Bolstered by the Hong Kong crisis, Tsai now seems to be coasting toward a landslide victory in January’s presidential election.

Far from enabling China’s peaceful reunification, the “one country, two systems” model is undermining it. Perhaps this was inevitable, owing to a cause more fundamental than Xi’s centralization of power, the Communist Party of China’s increasing interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, or even the basic contradiction between a one-party regime and a multi-party democracy. The Chinese state, built on a millennia-old paradigm of political order, cannot cope with intergovernmental conflict.

Modern democracy is based on division, within society and the state. In society, different groups, each with its own interests and priorities, compete for representation. In the state, there is a horizontal separation of powers (among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches) and a vertical division of powers (among national and sub-national governments).

For countries with a history of foreign domination, such divisions may seem like weaknesses that can be exploited by outsiders using a “divide-and-rule” strategy. And, indeed, according to China’s cyclical worldview, the commonwealth (Tian Xia) rotates between division (marked by chaos and war) and unity (which restores peace and order).

To be sure, China does maintain a separation of powers. But it is much more comfortable with horizontal checks and balances than vertical ones. For more than 2,000 years, Chinese imperial courts appointed a censor-in-chief to manage ministers and bureaucrats, and grandmasters of remonstrance to criticise emperors. The Song dynasty even divided provincial-level power among military, administrative, fiscal, and judicial officials.

Conflicts between national and sub-national governments, however, were historically divided into three categories – warlordism (割据, ge ju), insubordination (不臣, bu chen), and foreign threat (外患, wai huan) – all of which are unambiguously negative. To this day, China’s rulers distrust leaders with a local base, often choosing outsiders to serve as provincial governors and party bosses, and reshuffling them regularly.

From the Chinese government’s perspective, “Hong Kong ruled by Hong Kongers” (港人治港, gang ren zhi gang) was already a risky concession. So it ruled out a directly elected chief executive and worked to suppress the opposition, fearing that local dissidents would act as foreign agents to challenge the central government’s authority.

This effort backfired. China’s interference undermined the ability of older “democrats” who identified as Chinese to deliver the changes the people demanded, so they were replaced by younger “localists.” When China’s central government attempted to suppress these figures – including by purging them from the legislature in 2017 – resistance intensified.

By the beginning of this year, when Lam introduced a bill that would make it easier to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China, the people of Hong Kong were fed up. China’s government attempted to silence the protesters, including by arresting leading activists. The protest movement was thus left leaderless, making it impossible to negotiate a resolution.

Many of the young protesters now believe that they have so little to lose that they effectively seek “mutually assured destruction.” This “scorched Earth” approach renders Chinese threats of repression virtually impotent.

China now faces a dilemma. Unless democracy – with its requisite division – is shown to support the dream of civilizational resurgence, it will lack legitimacy among Chinese nationalists. But the only way to revive the “one country, two systems” rubric is to accept intergovernmental conflict – a great leap toward embracing democracy.

Institutionalised respect for regional identity and autonomy have eased separatist sentiment in Tamil NaduScotlandQuebec, the Basque region, and Flanders, and it could do the same in Hong Kong, and possibly even Taiwan. But if China continues to suppress intergovernmental conflict, the collapse of the “one country, two systems” model will be only a matter of time.


Chin-Huat Wong is a professor of political science at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University in Malaysia. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019. www.project-syndicate.org

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

33 Comments

Civil discontent is not just a problem China has to deal with. France has endured a torrid time for more than a year, culminating in a recent so called general strike.

France does have a public mechanism for replacing its emperor. And it hasn't produced a Louis 14th "" L'etat c'est moi "". There is nothing France to compare with China's muslim re-education camps where the mandarin equivalent naming the current Chinese emperor has to be repeated several hundred times before permission to eat is granted.
Hong Kong - it might resolve itself - the Chinese communist party dictatorship may be evil but it is also subtle and willing to take the long road to achieve its objectives.

China looks a lot like Germany in the 1930s.
The question is what they would have to do to stop the west grabbing its ankles.

The question is what they would have to do to stop the west grabbing its ankles.

Out of the realm of reality. China's alliance with Russia precludes any sort of military action that won't involve global nuclear holocaust.

Moreover,

Claims that China has detained millions of Uyghur Muslims are based largely on two studies. A closer look at these papers reveals US government backing, absurdly shoddy methodologies, and a rapture-ready evangelical researcher named Adrian Zenz. Link

There are many academic papers about Uyghur Muslims. For example "Colonization with Chinese characteristics: politics of (in)security in Xinjiang and Tibet" by Dibyesh Anand of School of Social Sciences, University of Westminster, London, UK and "Ethnic cleansing of Uyghur identity by China" August 2018 by European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Amsterdam and "China’s Protracted Securitization of Xinjiang: Origins of a Surveillance State" by Pablo A. Rodríguez-Merino who is a doctoral researcher and associate tutor in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (England). Academic papers give references which can be checked although you may need to trust Google's mandarin translations.
Surely plenty of biased rubbish is published. But there is too many articles with references published and too many from sources I trust (yes I do generally trust facts if not opinions published by the BBC). One thing that persuaded me was reading an article that contained snippets from a Chinese website for young communists showing pictures from their visits to Uyghur househlds and discussing how to test for muslim extremism with offers of pork and alcohol. Another was details from the state finances showing a truly massive increase in purchases of barbed wire, concrete, etc in 2017 but without any increase in the cost of employing teachers. So I agree with the deduction that their new reducation facilities (seen by satelite photo) are more likely to be concentration camps.
Some of the more lurid stories published in Sweden and Germany may or may not be true but whenever there is one ethnic group told another are traitors and then put into the role of being prison guards evil can and will occur. See the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse as a comparison.
Thank heavens for Sonny Bill - https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/sport/rugby/chinese-sports-columnists-bl...

I see cold war propaganda.

It is very widespread propaganda aimed at academics. This is from a recent publication "Development for all? State schemes, security, and marginalization in Kashgar, Xinjiang" by Alessandro Rippa.
Quote "" Most of our research for this article took place before the tenure of Chen Quanguo as Chinese Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) began in August 2016.Under his leadership, repressive security measures towards ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have dramatically increased with the stated aim of fighting “the three evil forces” (san gu shili) of ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism. Chen Quanguo’s policies have led to the construction of hundreds of prison camps across the region. According to recent estimates, up to a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, andother Turkic Muslim minorities are currently held in these camps. Our focus is not on the purpose of these camps. .... ""

Your source is RT which is a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government. Mine is from a social anthropologist working on borders, infrastructure and the environment in China and Myanmar who prior to joining Tallinn University completed a doctorate at the University of Aberdeen and has held postdoctoral positions at LMU Munich.
Admittedly arguing about bias of the sources is a waste of time. It was the communist daily news which reported the Mai Lai massacre a year before the mainstream UK newspapers. It does seem quite possible that a company in competition with Huawei would sponsor anti-chinese propaganda however I reckon they have a target. Most of our media and especially Simon Bridges and fellow Nats are willing to avoid anything that might upset the Chinese so you have to search to find reliable information. Just keep reading critically.

"Just keep reading critically" Yes providing you can obtained global news. Here's a worrying trend; BBC article: Russia 'successfully tests' its unplugged internet. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-50902496

It's no longer a questions of tech tit for tat or military at all, it's a question about how China can show the world.. that the world outpouring of funds towards their produce, forever increasing their wealth after that, what do they do next? for the whole world beings. So far the stats only pointing out to China affiliations for ruling elite in most countries, that benefiting those elitist host country and China alone. Sadly, the wealth it's not trickling down to every countries population that they're dealing with. It's only a matter of time, when people choose to close their wallet to buy anything produce/affiliated with China. Then what? How do China with whatever they choose to alliance with.. forcing the world back again to consume their produce/products? Remember the hidden China stats: 1.65billions? - 350millions are super riches=population of US and? yip... 1.3billions at the bottom supporting the top .35 - hmn... let's don't talk about Uyghur or Hong Kong yet.

A good read. China is heading back to the shadow of authoritarianism and personality cult under the current leader, rapidly. He has removed all the mechanisms his predecessors put in place to ensure the Party would have collective leadership. The current leader wants to be an emperor. All the Chinese emperors through history believed they were destined to unify all the lands under heaven (天下一统). Interesting times.

Isn't "May you live in interesting times" a Chinese curse?

No it isn't a curse, it's not even Chinese.

https://www.chinasprout.com/community/guestcolumns/21

Thanks

CCP & cult of XI.

https://youtu.be/JovtmKFxi3c

OIO, wakey wakey.

China’s peaceful reunification of Taiwan? that's how the PRC are painting it. It's annexation, not unification. There is no such thing as a peaceful annexation.

Crimea went back to Russia without a shot fired. Peaceful. Referendum. Annexation. (no protests either) Perhaps you didn't hear about it because it's unfashionable when people vote against the grand narrative. Take Brexit for example....

Also the annexation of Hawaii by the US.

China tend to consume things all for their own self interest, hardly for others well being. World just slowly start to get a realisation of that, in the all ever increasing interconnected relationship on this planet? - in the end every Nations on this earth, will ask the same questions with regard to their connection with China, is it for a few elitist vested interest countries leaders? or for the good of the whole countries population, healthy/balanced trade relationship. You'll figure out.

""China tend to consume things all for their own self interest"" - don't we all?

We do, but with difference as one Chinese friend said to me.. we're jokingly said that some in countries they do consume chicken feet, Kiwi friend said no no no, but then he said in China? the whole chicken will be consumed.. so nothing left at all, bone, nails, beak.. everything..we just paused.. no longer laughing.. Wow. China self interest are unprecedented from worldwide history wherever/whenever they go/ventured, there's some positive no doubt about it, but we're talking about the whole world here.. how many world countries citizens/normal populations that actually gave China movement in their country a thumbs up? - I'm all ear for any good response. China current power is as good as .. world wallet population kindness to buy their produce/products. Who knows? be good if this old British word of 'Commonwealth', can be reinvented by China.. with manifold benefits much better than the current ones - won't bet on it though ;-)

At least they build a second rate road in return, compared with the gunboat diplomacy of past world powers. A greater part of the world has chosen BRI over Freedom and Democracy Inc.

In regard to 155 years of British Rule absent an independent movement, was this simply a matter of timing? There doesn't tend to be disputes when an economies benefits flow to all. So is it more that Hong Kong has a quality of life that, like the rest of the world, can no longer be sustained.

Even British East India company entered as business entity to help but ruled over 200 years.

History is repeating itself only this this time is China and targeting small vulnerable countries like NZ.

Like it or not but reality. Can anyone say that China is not controlling Pacific islands including NZ.

NZ leaders are in no position but to support China be it human rights or anything as entire economy NZ depends upon China - no choice.

After 200 years rule became the centre piece of British Empire under Queen Vic. Then Indians were told their Muslim rulers had been replaced by the British crown and they were subjects of the queen equal to all other subjects. It might just have worked if the underlying racism of any imperial rule hadn't surfaced and become intolerable after the Amritsar massacre. There were India's as members of the elite Royal Society, there were Indian doctors trained at Cambridge, there were railways and schools and hospitals. Brits translated sanskrit and reseached Indian history and archeology. The population doubled although was still desperately poor. The British Empire only looks good when it is compared to other empires. China's empire is a worry - ask the indigenous people of Taiwan (if you can find them amongst the Han), ask Tibetan buddhists, ask Muslims in Xinjiang. One indicator is intermarriage - both the British and the Han chinese have a mixed record.

The French and German situations that other writers put in, is totally different to China.

With Hong Kong, if the troubles spread to other cities in China, China will quickly STOP IT and yes they will invade Hong Kong. Staying in Power is top priority to the Communist party, above anything else.

Hong Kong is part of China now since 1997, the main reason China has not taken much action is the trade talks with the USA. Once a trade pact is reached between the USA and China then anything can happen

Some would say the Hong Kong protests are deliberately stoked because of the Trade Talks

I'd be surprised if they were not being stoked in both directions. But I was astonished by the sheer number of the original participants. Wasn't it one in six of the population parading.

I'm also keen if the world now days can see another brutal oppression in the making, that late 80's was distance past without internet and so does any past 'H' caust event etc. - I can only predict/estimate a bit like today's discussion on plastic rubbish, global warming, pollution etc. - There could be worldwide consumerism backlash against anything made in China, affiliated or others. China does have an economic/major power, but C'mon we're talking about world public opinions here.. unless the ruling China elite.. 'can buy' those world billions opinions, doubt it.

Let's trust China! Yeah right.

In our lives, we've tested dealing in the past with these three: Japanese, South Korean & Chinese - all I can said? yea... your word 'trust' will be differ on each one of them. Will let you find out yourselves. Enjoy your Boxing day ! ;-)

From Henry_Tull's documentary link above:

In just a few short decades theft has made its military world class and its companies world leaders.

We would also have to say "theft" brought a lot of people out of poverty. From the perspective of someone who focused on his own country and his own people rather than lofty notions of "fairness", also someone aware of the injustices of the past inflicted on his own people by foreigners, it would have to be, what's referred to in learned circles as a 'no-brainer", that this path would be taken.

Stealing IP is not really theft anyway. Well not like invading, slaughtering those that resisted you, carting off treasure and holding a gun to the head of the leader and insisting they pay for the cost of hostilities as happened to China.

Also we didn't have to buy their stuff or move our industries there or employ their people in our sensitive industries, government and military, did we?

However at the end of the day if China can get a man to Mars all will be forgiven.

No short of volunteer for martyrdom/stardom/new legend to be written there, albeit a questionable endeavour for the good of mankind.. or just their kind?
Personally I forgave them already for several newly build, modern, mega cities.. that seems to lay emptied.. ghost cities. China civilasation very much connected to their Spiritual world for sure.

Days to the General Election: 19
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.