One country, one system

MAY 31 — Hong Kong, as we know it, has come to an end. Last week, China's National People's Congress (NPC) voted to enact a controversial national security law in Hong Kong.

The move is unusual because semi-autonomous Hong Kong has, since its handover to China in 1997 by the British, been governed by its own legislative council.  

The move to introduce legislation from Beijing effectively marks the end of the one country, two systems framework which gave Hong Kong considerable autonomy over internal affairs — including legal, judicial, economic and police matters.   

Beijing has made clear that it can and will impose legislation on Hong Kong where it sees fit. 

The new security law will give mainland authorities the power to operate in Hong Kong. 

Critics say this will lead to detention of those who criticise mainland authorities by mainland law enforcement agencies operating in Hong Kong.

The final form of the security legislation and how it will be implemented remain to be seen but the principle seems clear.  Beijing is asserting its authority over Hong Kong and such a direct assertion will mark a major change to the status quo.

Protestors who have for months been protesting the mainland’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy find themselves at square one or worse. 

From Beijing’s side, however, the NPC is simply making clear its authority over a territory. National security legislation for Hong Kong has in fact been due for decades.   

Whatever the final fallout, there will be major change. And that change will have winners and losers. And one of the likely winners is my city state. 

As the US responds to China's moves with threats to revoke Hong Kong’s trade privileges and protestors gear up to clash with police, Hong Kong’s lustre as financial centre dims.

But, of course, multinational companies need a place to be based, banks and finance houses need to move their money somewhere and growing companies need markets to list on. 

Singapore offers most of what Hong Kong did and now more business needs to come our way. Singapore has the chance to emerge in the medium-term bigger and better than before. Unchallenged as the premier economic centre between London and Tokyo, not just a leader in South-east Asia.  

But for this to be sustainable, we need to learn from Hong Kong. There were no major flaws in Hong Kong’s infrastructure, education or economic system. 

Only political instability, geopolitical tussle and a people who no longer have confidence in their government put an end to Hong Kong’s economic success story. 

Singapore, as it benefits, must be mindful of not making similar mistakes.  It must stay open to business and talent from all over the world but stay conscious of the aspirations of its people. 

We need to stay away from great power conflicts and fundamentally our leadership needs to remain aligned on where we are heading.  If we can keep on that path, then it will soon be our time to shine.  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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