As protestors trickle back onto the streets and shopping malls of Hong Kong, one potential solution to its political impasse is emerging. Some influential heavyweights in the business community have called for an extension of the 50-year term in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that guarantees the city a semi-autonomous way of life until 2047.
Earlier this month the outgoing chair of the Hong Kong chamber of commerce urged clarity on the future of the “one country, two systems” arrangement with Beijing. And hotel tycoon Sir Michael Kadoorie was full of optimism when I interviewed him for our forthcoming June issue, saying, “To me, 2047 is a date of review and there’s no reason to really feel that this is not China’s belief.”
That boardroom tactic has merit. The recent pro-democracy protests were a desperate act by a generation of young people who feel that they don’t have a future in their hometown. While shifting the expiration date beyond 2047 won’t alleviate all of these problems, some diplomatic can-kicking (let’s say another 50 years for argument’s sake) would bring down collective anxiety levels and allow disenfranchised protesters to start careers and build families of their own. To her credit, chief executive Carrie Lam has already floated the idea. However, a lack of trust in her government means that the public would need to see Xi Jinping put pen to paper; or, more realistically, simply issue a face-saving new “interpretation” of the existing provision.
A bellicose Beijing will be difficult to budge and pro-democracy stalwarts would still cry foul – but all sides need to give ground. As “one country, two systems” nears its halfway point, a “rollover” past 2047 is currently the best and, quite frankly, the only solution to end the protests ⎯⎯ short of another catastrophic event of global significance rolling in from the mainland.