KAM Man Fung : Even Saudi Arabia Is Preparing for “One Country, Two Systems”

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The prolonged trade war between China and the US, as time goes by, reveals that the goal of the two countries is not solely directed toward trade surpluses or deficits but is rather focused on vying for influence on the world. Likewise, it is an opportunity for the rest of the world to reconsider their diplomatic strategies. Today, of course, China’s political system is still not fully recognized by Europe and America, but the development of China in the past 40 years has a significant reference value for other developing countries, which is why China’s model has always been very attractive to developing countries.


In January 2019, I was invited by a research institute of the King Faisal Foundation in Saudi Arabia to attend a forum on the theme of “One Country, Two Systems” in Riyadh. Why is Saudi Arabia interested in “One Country, Two Systems”? The story started with the plan of the “Vision 2030” proposed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. Saudi Arabia’s economy has been relied on oil leading to a single economy structure, which is undoubtedly unsustainable for this country in the long run, resulting in uneven distribution of wealth. Therefore, the key to the “Saudi Vision 2030” is to diversify the industry and solve the current national economic problems.


Although Saudi is eager to develop its economy, at the same time, it has also understood that current regulations may not be able to attract international investors. Therefore in “Vision 2030”, Saudi also planned a special region different from the current national system, hoping to implement special commercial regulations in this region to attract more diverse investors. This special region called “NEOM” is planned in the northwest of Saudi, bordering with Egypt and Jordan, with an area of 26,500 sq. km. The budget of the whole project is USD$500 billion, and the Saudi Arabian National Oil Company (Aramco) will be listed abroad in the near future, the proceeds of which will partly fundraise this project.


Against this background, Saudi Arabia began to pay attention to China’s “One Country, Two Systems”, and hopes to learn from Hong Kong’s experience. Establishing a special region in a sovereign state is a domestic measure, and the government can establish it at any time. But whether it is successful or not depends on the acceptance of the international community. In the case of Hong Kong, which received separate customs territory status in 1986, it signified recognition and acceptance by the international community. On the contrary, the Rason Special Economic Zone was established in 1992 by the North Korean government to promote economic growth through foreign investment, but it received very little recognition from other countries.


If a special region wants to be accepted and recognized widely by the international community, it should be attractive to international investors in the first place; otherwise, it would be just in name only.


To what extent power is devolved from the central government to the special region determines how attractive it can be for international investors. If there is too little devolution, then there is no big difference between the special region and the rest of the country. On the contrary, too much devolution may provoke a backlash from other parts of the country. Furthermore, the special region may even deviate from the development direction and suggestions of the central government, and cause trouble to national governance. Therefore, how to manage the extent of devolution so that the special region can strive for the best interests for the country without the final control of the central government is what the success of “One Country, Two Systems” rests upon.


Saudi Arabia’s attention to China’s model and “One Country, Two Systems” is also an example of China’s growing influence in the world. Indeed, it has been a bumpy road for the development of “One Country, Two Systems”, and there have also been contradictions between the central and local government. But the issues in Hong Kong today are not necessarily caused by the present system, which may be the legacy of the previous system. As a key player, Hong Kong people may not recognize the advantages or disadvantages of the system, but yet it attracts enough attention to ask: how could a system without any advantages be refed to or studied? If China’s model and “One Country, Two Systems” can draw some attention, this may allow us to strengthen our confidence in the system.


“The confidence in the political system” put forward by the leader of China is not just a slogan but should also mean the success of the system and the international attention that it received. Certainly, the success of a system is defined not only by what it achieved at the moment, but also by whether it can achieve self-improvement when faced with external challenges. The China-US trade war may be a good opportunity for China’s model and “One Country, Two Systems” to prove its validity to the world again.


From Henry Ho & Gordon Lam (ed.) A Debate of Two Systems, p. 33

Original from:Forum Page, Ming Pao.