2047 is a magic number. According to Clause 3(12) of the Joint Declaration, the basic policies of PRC regarding Hong Kong are stipulated in the Basic Law and they will remain unchanged for 50 years. 1 July 2047 will be 50 years after the handover. This is a magic day when the effect of the Joint Declaration will lapse.
No one knows what will happen on that day. However, as the Basic Law provides for one country two systems with Hong Kong’s institutions and systems remains unchanged, it may be speculated that they will change on that day back to one country one system. Some overly optimistic people say if Hong Kong proves to be successful and useful to PRC, then the Basic Law and the high degree autonomy will go on forever. On the other end of the scale, some pessimistic people say China will take over the governance of Hong Kong on 1 July 2047 and all institutions and systems may change overnight.
A possible scenario that both sides and the world may like to see is, in 2047 Mainland China and Hong Kong are similar in political systems, economy, and civic expectation. There is no need to change as we are the same. Either the PRC progresses to the level of Hong Kong life style, or Hong Kong gradually takes on board the Mainland lifestyle.
What prompts me to take a look at this topic is the latest issue of the Hong Kong Journal. In this issue, there are two major articles on the recent changes in the policies of PRC on Hong Kong. One is by Jie Cheng, an associate professor of law at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the other by Frank Ching, a Hong Kong journalist. The first one is The Story of a New Policy written from the PRC angle, and the other one How Beijing Plays Its Hand, as seen from Hong Kong. Both have observations that there are clear signs and actions that the PRC is steadily changing the policies by directly involving in Hong Kong politics.
The PRC has given Hong Kong time thinking that a close connection with the Mainland is sufficient to bring Hong Kong and Mainland to the same level in 50 years’ time. Since the handover, she has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards Hong Kong. Academics agreed that the pivotal point is the protest march of 1 July 2003. Since then, PRC leaders noticed the role of political organizations in the process of mobilization and confrontation, and also the influence of foreign countries in the process. PRC has started to take firmer control of Hong Kong’s internal affairs. In the coming years, we will see more authority assumed by mainland officials and certain Hong Kong residents they choose, with less remaining in the hands of Hong Kong’s own officials and the elected legislative council.
For Hong Kong to automatically integrate with the Mainland in 2047, there are several major issues which could be tackled in the ensuing years. On hardware, there are now much enhanced co-operation between Hong Kong and neighbouring ShenZhen and Guangdong. The on-going trend is that we are having integrated infrastructure across the border including roads, railways, airports and ferries. Daily commute between the two places is now common, both for work and schooling. There are talks on cross-border buffer areas where immigration rules are exempted. ShenZhen could even be open for unrestricted travelling with the checkpoints moving backwards. With ever advancing phases of CEPA, trading and services are integrated within a bigger and bigger special administrative region.
There are of course some more difficult issues such as currency and others. With the decline of the importance of US dollar worldwide, there will come a time, probably before 2047, that all countries abandon US dollar as the major reserve currency. Hong Kong dollars could then link with Renminbi, or change the legal tender to Renminbi altogether.
The major problems are the political system and the legal system. This is something PRC would like to intervene in order to bring about a smooth transition. As such, there is a very bumpy road ahead for the constitutional reform in Hong Kong. But we have plenty of time before 2047. We can wish for a change in Hong Kong as well as a change in the Mainland. In 2047, we could even be living on the Moon or Mars.