Li's gaffe has deep meaning

Editorial | Mary Ma 4 Nov 2019

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chief executive Charles Li Xiaojia has raised many an eyebrow with his "politically incorrect" criticism that Beijing's "one country, two systems" arrangement for the SAR has some "fundamental flaws."

But was he wrong to say so?

On second thoughts, the remarks, made at the annual dinner of London Metal Exchange last week, may have been controversial, but they were not necessarily bereft of good sense, although they might make those who're always sticklers for political correctness of the Chinese communist party variety squirm.

Before Li was a western audience who had been monitoring Hong Kong's anti-government protests from a distance. Li attributed the unrest to some fundamental flaws in the implementation of the "one country, two systems" policy implemented by late leader Deng Xiaoping.

That's the kind of public remarks few would have expected the HKEx chief to make. Reporters covering financial news know that Li has mostly refrained from commenting publicly on non-financial subjects and comments so those he made last week were a rare commodity indeed.

Given the perfect storm that Hong Kong finds itself embroiled in, even politicians whose establishment loyalties can't be challenged have been steadfastly avoiding voicing anything that even remotely contradicts the official line. As such, it was both bold and foolhardy of Li to bring up a point of his own.

However, the question remains: how can "one country" and "two systems" coexist?

On his return from London, Li retreated a little to embrace the policy, but he still stuck to his emphasis that Beijing must, on the one hand, have confidence that nobody in Hong Kong will challenge its sovereignty rights over the SAR, while, on the other hand, the policy would suffer unless the people of Hong Kong are allowed to have universal suffrage, as they were promised.

In practice, the enactment of a national security law in line with Article 23 should be happening at the same time as the adoption of a universal suffrage system for the chief executive and Legislative Council elections as they are inseparable.

Li may have been less than diplomatic, but perhaps there is no less direct way for him to make the point he felt needed to be made.

Needless to say, the protests afflicting Hong Kong for the past five months is a political crisis that screams for a political solution. It is absolutely necessary for a truce to be reached first to pave the way for that elusive political solution to be found.

The violent clashes between police and protesters will only lead Hong Kong down a road of no return if they don't stop.

Li isn't the first public figure to express the view.

Didn't Basic Law Committee deputy director Maria Tam Wai-chu recently call for a mid-term review of the implementation of the "one country, two systems" policy after the next SAR chief executive was installed in 2022?

According to Tam, the review would seek to find out what both Hong Kong and Beijing have not been doing enough in their implementation of the policy.

From Beijing's point of view, Li's comments must be untimely since its top priority is to end the violence here.

It's true that fewer people have been taking to the streets in the past few weekends after even peaceful protesters were brutally clubbed and pepper-sprayed by riot cops. But has the situation improved as the use of force becomes more brutal?

Li's remarks may have been politically incorrect, but they provoke thoughts of the kind we need to end this crisis.


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