ZHANG Jian: Taiwan Solution of “One Country, Two Systems”: Lessons from Hong Kong

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Earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at a gathering to commemorate the 40th anniversary of issuing Message to Compatriots in Taiwan. Xi Jinping raised a five-point proposal for peaceful reunification for Taiwan, and it provides a fundamental basis for the new era to promote national reunification. They include “work together to promote China’s rejuvenation and achieve its peaceful reunification”; “explore a ‘two systems’ solution to the Taiwan question and enrich practical efforts toward peaceful reunification”; “adhere to the one-China principle and ensure the prospects for peaceful reunification”; “deepen integrated development of the two sides and cement the foundation for peaceful reunification”; “forge closer bonds of heart and mind between people on both sides and strengthen our joint commitment to peaceful reunification”.


Hong Kong realized national reunification under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”. The formulation of “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question should make reference to the Hong Kong solution and a systematic summary and review of the process of reunification of Hong Kong, as well as the experience and lessons learned in implementing “One Country, Two Systems” in Hong Kong should be conducted.


Specific governance design after unification


  • “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question should have a design of how to

govern after reunification. President Xi’s specific proposal to explore a “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question has not only initiated the concrete design of the Taiwan Proposal of “One Country, Two Systems” but also marked the new stage of peaceful development of cross-strait relations and peaceful reunification. The proposal of Taiwan should not only be a plan for “Cross-Strait reunification” but also a plan for how to achieve good governance after reunification. The lessons of the Hong Kong solution were the over emphasis on the reunification process (national reunification) and too much emphasis on “high autonomy” in post-reunification governance. It neglected the post-unification governance and Central Government’s supervision of the SAR’s implementation of high degree of autonomy. This results in the rejection of Central Government’s power among Hong Kong society in the name of “high degree of autonomy” since the reunification. Although Hong Kong has been re-integrated into the national governance system since the date of reunification, in fact, the governance of Hong Kong is on the agenda only after the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 2013 which proposed to promote the modernization of the national governance system and governance capacity.


Taiwan is different from Hong Kong, so the “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question is bound to be different from the solution of Hong Kong. The proposal of Taiwan should have a specific governance design for the reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The Central Government’s design of governance after reunification is not inconsistent with the principle of “high degree of autonomy” under “One Country, Two Systems” and the design of the post-reunification governance of Taiwan is to preserve the characteristics of its capitalist system and to ensure its economic, social, cultural, educational, legal systems are in line with the overall development of the nation. The design should establish the central government’s right to supervise Taiwan’s “high degree of autonomy” and to avoid Taiwan’s interpretation of “high degree of autonomy” becoming a source of conflict between central and local governments as in the case of Hong Kong.


(2) The “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question should have arrangements to demonstrate the central authority of governance before and after the reunification. In exploring “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question, President Xi stressed the common political basis for exchanging views with all parties, groups, sectors or individuals in Taiwan on cross-strait political issues and on promoting dialogue and reunification of China, which are the one-China principle of democratic consultation, adherence to the 1992 Consensus and opposing “Taiwan independence”. One of the manifestations of the one-China principle is to embody the central government’s authority of governance. During the period of the British government in Hong Kong, in order to strengthen the supervision of the administration of the Hong Kong government, the British government set up a Standing Committee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to monitor the progress of the Hong Kong Government’s implementation of development plans. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs usually wrote to the Governor on matters of concern to the Standing Committee. The establishment of this committee has strengthened the communication between the “central government” of the United Kingdom and the Hong Kong government and has the dual effect of monitoring and advising. In recent years, the political logic of the central government to strengthen the overall governance of Hong Kong, in fact, is precisely the central government’s correction of the practice of “One Country, Two Systems” in Hong Kong and the process of which the central government has re-established the power, function, role, and status of the central government in “One Country,Two Systems” administration in Hong Kong.


The “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question should draw lessons from Hong Kong, and apart from sovereignty, there also should be comprehensive communication and consultation process on the central government’s right to govern Taiwan through democratic consultation. We can first develop a framework and mechanism for democratic consultation in the field of cross-strait relations academia, reach institutional arrangements for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, and promote the guiding principles of cross-strait political negotiations. We may consider setting up a “Cross-Strait Advisory Committee on the Promotion of National Reunification” to involve representatives from all walks of life on both sides and to design various flexibility schemes to provide intellectual support for the “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question and to reflect the central government’s ownership and initiative in the development of cross-strait relations.


(3) The “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question should include an estimate of the long-term evolution of Taiwan’s social contradictions. In exploring the “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question, President Xi conveyed the commitment of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee to Taiwan, saying that “In terms of how the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” should be carried out in Taiwan, we will fully consider Taiwan’s reality, give full consideration to the views and proposals from all walks of life on both sides and fully accommodate the interests and sentiments of our compatriots in Taiwan.” Taiwan’s society is complex, and public opinion is volatile, and a variety of political forces have the potential to influence public opinion. From the lessons of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong solution of “One Country, Two System” lacks an estimate of the long-term evolution of its social problems and  contradictions in Hong Kong. This results in many challenges for central government to the overall governance of Hong Kong even though Hong Kong has returned more than 20 years. Over the past 20 years of practice in Hong Kong by “One Country, Two System”, Hong Kong has faced both deep-seated structural problems, such as the polarization of the rich and the poor, housing and land problems, as well as such radical thinking and behavior as “Hong Kong independence” and “self-determination” that endanger national sovereignty, security and development interests.


A response mechanism to Taiwan’s public opinion

The long-term estimation of Taiwan’s social problems contradictions should also include the understanding of changes in public opinion. During the Sino-British negotiations on the Hong Kong issue and during the transitional period, both the British side and the British Government of Hong Kong have used public pressure as a negotiating strategy, creating a contradiction between the Central Government and public opinion in Hong Kong, thereby gaining bargaining chips in the negotiation process. Therefore, there should be a response mechanism to Taiwan’s public opinion; we should rationally analyze the various referendums and opinion polls involving the development and reunification of the cross-strait relations in Taiwan society, estimate and look ahead to the evolution of Taiwan society. It is necessary to make scenario analyses on the problems and contradictions in Taiwan society that may challenge the central power before and after reunification and prepare contingency plans accordingly.


(4) The “Two Systems” solution to the Taiwan question should respond to the institutional conflicts encountered in the development of cross-strait integration. Since the reunification of Hong Kong, the process of integration between the two sides has undergone a transformation and shift from “Hong Kong propose, Central Government supports” to “Central Government proposes, Hong Kong cooperates”. Judging from the trend and scope of future integration between the two sides, while the central government supports Hong Kong’s integration into the overall development of the nation, many forces in the Hong Kong society would still resist integration. The institutional differences in “two systems” have become the policy obstacles to integration and development, so the legal, cultural, and political conflicts in integration are inevitable, and the contradictions of integration will persist for a long time. In recent years, in the development of cross-strait integration, the central government has “taken the lead” and absorbed politics by economic means, whereas Taiwan tends to be “control-oriented” and took political actions to disrupt economic integration. In comparison, the central government occupies the dominant power and maintains an upper hand.


Therefore, the central government’s policy towards Taiwan should not only promote integration and development of both sides before reunification, break the policy bottleneck, support specific and implementable projects, so that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have a sense of integration and development; enhance the awareness of the people from both sides of the Taiwan Strait on the central government’s Taiwan-related policies, and enhance Taiwan people’s recognition of the goodwill of the Mainland related Taiwan issues. And we should carry out a long-term scenario analyses on possible institutional conflicts and challenges in the integration and development of the two sides after reunification, and provide alternative solutions to reduce the impact of possible problems in the development of cross-strait integration on the implementation of the “two systems” solution to Taiwan.


From 《A Debate of Two Systems》,p.69

Original from:Opinion page, Ming Pao.