Richard Margolis, a former UK diplomat who negotiated the terms of Hong Kongs handover to China. Photograph: Benjamin Haas for the Guardian
Twenty years after the handover, the key elements which make Hong Kong different from China are still present: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience and an independent judiciary. Will this continue, especially since Hong Kongs importance to China has receded in the past 20 years? Answer: yes but only if both Hong Kong and Beijing keep their sides of the bargain.
Before explaining this, a couple of basic notions which are often overlooked:
- It is not and never has been a necessary condition for Hong Kongs survival for China to be ruled by people who share the values that underpin Hong Kong.
- All that is required of Chinas leaders is that they perceive a balance of advantage to them in continuing to accept Hong Kongs separateness.
That balance of advantage is less overwhelmingly obvious than it was 20 years ago, but still exists, in my view. And Chinas leaders have huge challenges excess industrial capacity, excess debt, slowing growth, rapidly ageing population which means that their overwhelming preference is for Hong Kong to get on with its separate existence, do what it needs to do to adapt to a changing world, stay competitive and not bother Beijing.
But Hong Kong has had a tendency since the handover to ask for special deals, such as CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement). And Hong Kong business people acquired the habit of lobbying in Beijing in pursuit of their interests in Hong Kong. All of these activities seem to me against the spirit of the handover arrangements, which were: You leave us alone and we wont bother you.
So my conclusion is that it is, of course, essential that China keep its promises but Hong Kong has to keep its side of the bargain as well.