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Hong Kong and China: 'One Country' with 'Two Systems'

27/01/2015 14:02 GMT | Updated 27/03/2015 09:59 GMT

"Mind The Gap, Please."

It is another busy day. Commuters take the stairs up, line up, receive an expressionless nod from the immigration officers, and walk across the yellow line, indicating that they have crossed the border. Again.

"Please mind the gap." The broadcast echoes over and over again, first in English, followed closely by Cantonese, and finally Mandarin Chinese. People walk hastily around the Mass Transit Railway station, carrying the latest copy of the South China Morning Post.

The routine of the businessmen, schoolchildren, and other commuters from Shenzhen, China to Hong Kong seems mundane. Yet this yellow line separates two completely different places, marking the boundary between the "Two Systems" of "One Country." Not only is it a boundary between two intangible systems of politics and legislature, it is a boundary between two radically different ways of living.

Hong Kong's geopolitics are fascinating. With a population of 7 million, a small but self-contained government, and no military of its own, Hong Kong is situated right next to Mainland China, an increasingly powerful economy with strong military aspirations for the surrounding region.

If one stands precisely on this yellow line and steps to the right, into Hong Kong, he or she has access to information via the New York Times, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. If he or she takes a step to the left, the Great Firewall of Mainland China blocks all that access, and arguably, political rights. On this basis alone, not to mention the multitude of other differences between the "Two Systems" in "One Country", we see much more freedom in the daily lives of the people of Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Dream for Democracy

It has been 17 years since the British released Hong Kong from their rule in July 1997, relinquishing Hong Kong to its original. That year, the Basic Law of Hong Kong went into effect. Basic Law is governed by one fundamental principle: "One Country, Two Systems," which was designed by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, the man behind fundamental economic reforms (which were literally translated as "reform and open up") in China. Under this principle, Mainland China grants Hong Kong a large degree of political autonomy, along with the right to maintain its capitalist economy. Meanwhile, Mainland China's one-party government does not tolerate dissent, and state corporations have significant involvement in the economy.

In 2007, Mainland China promised that the people of Hong Kong would be given the liberty to directly elect their executive in 2017 and their legislators by 2020. This summer, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee decided that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) will be granted universal suffrage in the selection of its Chief Executive on the basis of nomination by a "broadly representative committee" similar in composition to the current Elections Committee. The Chinese Central Government will pre-screen candidates for the position and limit the number of final candidates to two or three. Hong Kong is to have an election "with Chinese characteristics," an election in which candidates are first screened by the Communist Party.

This decision has caused the people of Hong Kong to mourn their dream of democracy. Additionally, it has attracted great international attention on the credibility of China, the world's second largest economy, that ambitiously wishes to balance capitalistic democracy and socialism "with Chinese characteristics." However, the decision may not be purely outrageous. Fundamentally, the Basic Law leaves the final say to Beijing. Therefore, although the Law itself does not place any direct constraints on achieving universal suffrage, Beijing may not desire it for Hong Kong.

"If I'm Not Chinese, Then...Who Am I?": The Gap in Identity

"Please mind the gap." "Please mind the gap..." The broadcast continues echoing in three languages as the Hong Kongers hastily walk around the MTR station. As Hong Kong's struggle for democracy continues, we may as well shift our attention from politics and law to the social and human aspects of the issue: some may label Hong Kong as a longtime colony: first of the UK and now of China.

The Hong Kong dream of universal suffrage-and therefore political democracy-is complicated by legal, political, and demographic factors. If the people of Hong Kong fundamentally hold fragmented views on their own cultural identity due to the "One Country, Two Systems" politics and law, there is certainly a gap between the mainlanders and the Hong Kongers themselves. We should cautiously mind the gap, then, in order to keep pursuing the dream of democracy.