Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why Hong Kong and Singapore must help their airlines soar

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Derwin Pereira says no laissez-faire principles can be prized more than the symbolic importance of Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to each territory

When unbearable abdominal pain attacks you while you are flying 37,000 feet above the Pacific, hours away from your destination, you literally are at the mercy of the cabin crew. How they react depends on the culture of the airline, the crew’s practical training, and, finally, on a visceral capacity for human responsiveness.

I fell ill, with what was diagnosed later as a kidney stone attack, two hours into a recent Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong. Members of the inflight staff gave me medication based on the advice of specialists on the ground. When the flight landed in Hong Kong, an ambulance was ready for me. So was a member of the airline staff who chaperoned me to the nearest hospital. I was on the next flight home after the check-up.

During my detour through Hong Kong, thinking about Singapore Airlines naturally made me take a comparative look at Cathay Pacific.

Both are premium Asian airlines. Both symbolise the audacious international reach of the minuscule territories where they originated. Both are under pressure from upstarts in other parts of Asia and even in their own regional backyards. Both have loyal customers who see them as national possessions. And both need their governments to accord them the courtesy given to national institutions.

Consider Singapore Airlines. I fly it because I am Singaporean. The airline is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. For me, though, its provenance dates from 1972, when it became the national carrier of Singapore seven years into the country’s independence.

The airline represents for me the capacity of a man-made institution to outwit hostile natural circumstances through Darwinian determinism. The ethic of survival and success, which motivated Singapore from the first moment of its independence, is written into the airline’s rationale. Singapore Airlines is to the skies what Singapore is to the land.

The airline is a national icon. In Singapore’s internationalised economic space, it is comparable in symbolic significance with the civil service and the Singapore Armed Forces. The civil service has overseen a city state’s transformation from third world to first world. The military ensures that the city remains a state.

Commercially, Singapore Airlines is Singapore’s face to the world, offering the first glimpse of what this country offers to foreigners. Those unimpressed with its standards are unlikely to be enchanted by the nation which lies beyond Changi Airport.

For Singaporeans, to whom the world does not owe a living, Singapore Airlines is a concrete example of how an unexpected nation can make a living, and a reasonably good one at that.

Cathay Pacific, I’d imagine, occupies a similar place in the Hong Kong public imagination. It began life as an airline that capitalised on its Asian locale even in colonial Hong Kong. Two decades into the city’s return to China, Cathay is not only a Chinese airline but also a Hong Kong Chinese airline, its mystique distinguished clearly from the larger cultural context in which mainland Chinese airlines operate.

Symbolically, Cathay is to Hong Kong’s autonomy in the air what the territory’s political and economic institutions are to its special status on the ground. To put it bluntly, Air China is, and is seen as, a Chinese airline, and in the larger framework of Chinese aviation, Cathay was, is and will be a Hong Kong airline.

This is why governments, like their peoples, need to view iconic airlines in special ways.

There is one impediment. Both Singapore and Hong Kong made their mark on the international economy by practising largely laissez-faire policies. Economic nationalism was a suicidal idea because it meant that small entities could be excluded legitimately from larger markets for political or ethnic reasons. Whatever the good or the service involved – whether apparel or airlines – economic access to the global hinterland was essential for Hong Kong and Singapore.

After all, Singapore Airlines could hardly fly from Changi to Seletar – where there’s an airport serving private jets – any more than Cathay could fly from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. Economic territorialism outside their borders spells physical doom.

Propelled on by the salutary limitations of domestic geography, Singapore and its Singapore Airlines, and Hong Kong and its Cathay remained a bridge between the contending worlds of capitalism and communism even during the cold war.

That was then. Today, West Asian airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways are leveraging on their geographical position between Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, the Pacific routes from Singapore and Hong Kong are up for grabs to regional challengers, not least from mainland China itself. Sovereign wealth funds help fuel the rise of some West Asian airlines. Flagship carriers in China or Malaysia have national coffers to fall back on.

To mix metaphors, there is no reason for Hong Kong or Singapore to abjure the sink-or-swim philosophy that made their airlines great. But they must ensure that those airlines do not now sink because other countries are intent on keeping their airlines shipshape.

Singapore Airlines and Cathay must take to the skies, carrying the aspiration of millions inscribed into their names.

Derwin Pereira heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consultancy. He is also a member of Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs


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What Hong Kong can learn from Europe’s still-evolving union

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Yan Shaohua says the consensus-building project that is the European Union offers good pointers for our divided city

 

This year is an eventful year for Hong Kong. The city is poised to see the election of a new chief executive on March 26, and 2017 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

On another continent, and just one day before the chief executive election here, the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that laid the foundation of the union.

The EU and Hong Kong may seem very different from one another, but if we look deeper, the two could be familiar strangers. Philosophically, the EU’s concept of “unity without uniformity” resonates perfectly with the spirit of “one country, two systems” here. And, to a large extent, both the EU and Hong Kong are “strange animals” in terms of their unique place in the global system.

There are other similarities. The EU suffers from a perceived “democratic deficit”, Hong Kong is struggling to establish a “true demo­cracy”. The EU faces a backlash against the consolidation of a political union, Hong Kong is stuck in its political reform. The EU frets over the ascent of populism and nationalism, Hong Kong fears the rise of localism. Facing these challenges, both sides are at a crossroads, compelled to review their past and reflect on future paths.

Giving these commonalities, it is surprising that so little attention is paid to the EU in Hong Kong’s discussions on the future of “one country, two systems”. As a researcher in European studies in Hong Kong, I believe that a study of the EU would offer valuable lessons for our problems. These lessons can be summarised in what I call the “3Cs”: constitution, communication and consensus.

Constitution

The first lesson is to come back to the constitution. Despite its inherent flaws and the multiple crises along the way, the EU has evolved from a group of six members into a union of 28 states under a supranational governance structure. This has largely occurred on the basis of what we call the acquis communautaire, which includes the accumulated legislation, legal order and court decisions that constitute the body of European Union laws.

In particular, the Treaty of Rome and its subsequent revisions have served as the constitutional framework to navigate the EU’s evolution. Although the EU’s progression is slow and not without setbacks, there has been a strong sense of working through the constitutional treaties which enables the EU to overcome the seemingly unworkable system.

The EU’s adherence to its constitutional framework and the supremacy it gives to European law should constitute “foreign stones that may serve to polish domestic jade”. Like the EU experience, “one country, two systems” is an evolving formula that calls for continuous improvements in practice. In recent years, the city has seen a strong push for reform, yet many of the discussions undertaken are out of the context and unrealistic.

In fact, a number of the issues raised have already been addressed in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. It is thus imperative that any discussion on the future of “one country, two systems” – which still provides ample room and flexibility to accommodate the pleas of different stakeholders – begins with the Basic Law.

Li Fei, chairman of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, speaks at a luncheon with Hong Kong lawmakers and officials in November 2013. Hong Kong must create effective mechanisms for political communication and consul­tation between the executive and legislative organs, between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps, and between the SAR and Beijing. Photo: Sam Tsang

Communication

The second lesson is to establish effective channels of communication. The EU is a system of multilevel governance that involves multiple actors and multiple methods of decision-making. The functioning of such a complicated system would not have been possible without the various formal and informal mechanisms of communication between EU institutions and member states.

Such open and institutionalised ways of communication are not sufficiently seen within Hong Kong or between Hong Kong and Beijing. Consequently, the city is constantly trapped in confrontations over policies, politics and, particularly, its relations with Beijing.

To avoid unnecessary confrontation and facilitate constructive interactions, a priority for Hong Kong is to create effective mechanisms (formal or informal) for political communication and consul­tation between the executive and legislative organs, between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps, and between the SAR and Beijing. This could be achieved within Hong Kong’s constitutional framework.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers hold up banners while being escorted out after they interrupted the chief executive election forum in Hong Kong last Sunday. With increasing social movements and political demonstrations, the SAR is transforming from an economic city into a political city, where politics and society are highly polarised. Photo: AFP

Consensus

Based on the constitution and through communication, a third lesson for Hong Kong is to rebuild a consensus. The EU is essentially a project of consensus-building, which has in turn contributed to European integration. For decades, the post-war European consensus on achieving peace and prosperity through functional economic integration has been an enabling factor for the EU’s development.

That consensus seems to be losing momentum right now. The hopes are that a new consensus could be built on the occasion of the EU’s 60th anniversary.

Hong Kong is facing a similar dilemma. With increasing social movements and political demonstrations, the SAR is transforming from an economic city into a political city, where politics and society are highly polarised. Gradually, people seem to be getting used to divisions and confrontations, forgetting the wisdom of making compromises and consensus. It is time for Hong Kong to rebuild a much-needed consensus, not only on its internal governance, but also on its role as a go-between for China and the world.

Finally, we should be aware that the EU and Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” are both unprecedented political experiments in supranational and national governance. Despite the challenges and the crises that have emerged, they are still something worth fighting for, because they represent future possibilities, and hope.

Dr Yan Shaohua is an Asia fellow at the EU-Asia Institute, ESSCA School of Management, and a member of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum


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Carrie Lam, the presumed next leader of Hong Kong, is no clone of divisive Leung Chun-ying

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-21
Gary Cheung says the former chief secretary just needs to bring back her inclusive leadership style that in the past has helped to defuse, or at least set out to defuse, tension in society

 

The support of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and his sons for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could be the last nail in the coffin for her rival John Tsang Chun-wah’s campaign to be chief executive.

For weeks, there had been speculation that Li is a supporter of Tsang’s and that he and his sons may cast their vote for him in the secret ballot on Sunday to select Hong Kong’s next leader. People in favour of the former financial secretary had hoped that support from the Li family could encourage more pro-establishment electors to vote for the popular underdog as well.

That hope has now been dashed.

The Post has learned that National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang ( 張德江 ) last month successfully persuaded the Li family to vote for Lam, who is seen as Beijing’s preferred candidate.

This is a timely reminder that realpolitik reigns in the chief executive poll.

Some Tsang supporters believe President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) reticence on the matter so far may indicate Lam is just Zhang’s choice. But an understanding of Chinese politics suggests that no major decision like choosing Hong Kong’s leader could be made by anybody except Xi, who is now the most powerful Communist Party leader since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

Nevertheless, while Beijing’s all-out effort to support Lam makes clear that she is the “anointed” candidate, Hongkongers should not suppose that their views carry no weight in the eyes of Beijing. Since the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in March last year, Beijing has been monitoring public opinion in Hong Kong on likely candidates to be the next chief executive. Noting the opposition to Leung Chun-ying, mainland officials tasked with gathering intelligence were particularly interested in how Hongkongers viewed Tsang and Lam.

Leung’s announcement that he would not seek re-election is a testament to Beijing’s conciliatory approach towards Hong Kong. Hongkongers’ overwhelming opposition to Leung and the reluctance of a substantial number of pro-establishment figures to back him for a second term were factors that contributed to Beijing’s decision to look for an alternative.

The central government’s preference for Lam stems from its desire for a chief executive who has the capability and commitment to tackle thorny issues and, to a lesser extent, someone relatively acceptable to Hongkongers. As Beijing expects the next chief executive to have the ability to handle the complicated situation in Hong Kong in the next few years, it has reservations about Tsang’s laid-back leadership style and his tendency to avoid controversial issues.

Despite Lam’s nickname “CY 2.0”, I am reasonably optimistic that she would make a better chief executive than Leung in terms of bridging social divides – if she could restore her inclusive leadership style and problem-solving skills evident before the failed electoral reform in 2015.

In July 2007, Lam, then the secretary for development, took the bold move to join a debate with activists at a public forum at Queen’s Pier to persuade the angry crowd to disperse and allow the work to demolish the pier to start. Her presence at that critical moment helped calm the crowds and defuse the tension.

Further to her credit, Lam liaised with middlemen, like University of Hong Kong academic Joseph Chan Cho-wai and former president of the University of Hong Kong students’ union Gloria Chang Wan-ki, to set up dialogue with student leaders at the forefront of the Occupy Central protests in 2014.

At the televised dialogue with student leaders on October 21, Lam told them the government would submit a report to the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to reflect public sentiment since the protests began on September 28. The government would also consider setting up a multi-party platform for talks on constitutional development beyond 2017, she said. But the talks eventually failed to reap rewards because the gap between the two sides was just too wide to be bridged.

One of Lam’s urgent tasks after landing the top job – if she is selected, as expected – will be to set herself apart from Leung by demonstrating a more inclusive governing style.

In an interview with online media ourTV.hk last Thursday, Lam told the programme host and former legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing that she was interested in the model of the eight-party coalition that Lau spearheaded in 2001 to push for policies that enjoy support from across the political aisle. The coalition successfully forced the government of the day to agree to measures such as a waiver of property rates and quarantine of residents in a block in Amoy Gardens in Kowloon Bay, at the height of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003.

I hope Lam means what she says and shows more flexibility in dealing with the pan-democrats after she becomes chief executive.

This is my last column for the Post, where I have worked for nearly 17 years. As someone who has been observing Hong Kong politics for more than two decades, it pains me to witness the vicious cycle precipitated by Beijing’s growing assertiveness on Hong Kong affairs and the resultant backlashes by Hongkongers in recent years.

I believe the persistent expression of views through peaceful means is more forceful and effective in pushing change than hurling bricks in the streets. Deliberate challenges to Beijing’s bottom line, like advocating Hong Kong independence and using abusive language during any oath-taking ceremony, only do a disservice to the fight for democracy.

Yet, as I told some Beijing officials and mainland experts on Hong Kong, Beijing badly needs to create room for moderates in Hong Kong to ensure the sustainability of the “one country, two systems” framework and break the vicious cycle.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor


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政治抉擇 兩惡取其輕

信報財經新聞
忽然文化
2017-02-18

占飛

本來,民主選舉就是要選出能夠造福人民的候選人。可是,當兩個候選人都不符標準時,選民只有兩個選擇:不投票(No vote),或投票給lesser evil,所謂「兩害取其輕」也。去年的美國總統選舉,只有希拉莉和特朗普兩個候選人,很多評論都稱之為「兩害取其輕」的選舉。

用「兩害取其輕」翻譯lesser evil,不算十分準確。Evil是個宗教概念。對耶教徒──無論是羅馬天主教徒抑或新教基督教徒──幹了evil的事,就是犯了宗教的罪(Sin)。犯了宗教的罪,是要受懲罰的。在此世逃脫懲罰,死後仍要受天主或上帝審判,懲罰是躲不了的。對天主教徒來說,宗教的大罪、重罪犯得多,可能上不了天堂,要下地獄。

被動地作惡

此所以邪惡(Evil)與魔鬼(Devil)只是一字母之差。幹evil的事,就是與魔鬼為伍。韋斯曼(Eyal Weizman)在《萬惡中最輕者》(The Least of All Possible Evils)書中云:魔鬼是6-6-6的話,那lesser evil只是6-6-5,差別很小。萬惡中取最輕者仍是惡,仍會為害,不單害別人,還害自己──喪失了最寶貴的靈魂是也!「兩害取其輕」的害,即沒有「害人亦害己」的意思。Evil,譯為惡可能更好,作惡,就是為害個人的良知或良心。

不投票論者認為:lesser evil始終是evil。兩惡取其小,依然是作了惡。為存清白,應該不投票或投白票。反對不投票論則認為,不投票給「較小之惡」等於幫助「較大之惡」取勝。對惡袖手旁觀,表面上沒有作惡,實則是被動的(Passively)作了惡。正所謂「我不殺伯仁,伯仁為我而死」。漢娜鄂蘭(Hannah Arendt)在《平庸之為惡》(The Banality of Evil)中指:「選擇『較小之惡』的人,太輕率地忘記了:他選擇了惡。(He who chooses for the lesser evil all too readily forgets having chosen evil.)」正是這個意思。

「兩惡取其輕」的問題很早就困擾天主教的神學家。公元四世紀,聖奧古斯丁(St. Augustine)便提出「惡非實體論」:上帝創造萬物,如果惡是實體存在之物,那誰來創造惡呢?不就是上帝嗎?可是,上帝是至善的,本身不可能有丁點兒的惡,也就不可能創造惡(上帝也不是無所不能的呀!)。惡不是實體,那惡是什麼?聖奧古斯丁的答案是:惡只是善的失去(Loss of good)或善的否定(Negation of good)。

作「必要之惡」

「惡非實體論」,主要為對抗當時流行的摩尼教。聖奧古斯丁在歸信天主教前,曾是摩尼教徒。摩尼教相信,善和惡都是實體存在,善是光明和真理,惡是黑暗和錯誤。萬事萬物中,都存在善和惡、光明和黑暗、真理與錯誤的鬥爭。人要得到救贖,就要取善去惡,得光明除黑暗。摩尼教主張善惡二元論。聖奧古斯丁則主張一元論──只有善是實體,惡不是。故此,大惡、小惡、較小之惡、較大之惡……只要是惡,都不應為之,頂多是容忍,因為有時好人也不得不行「必要之惡」(Necessary evil)。比如「正義之戰」(Jus ad bellum):雖然所有戰爭都是惡,甚至是萬惡之首,但反侵略、反壓迫、護教,便不得不戰。戰爭中必要殺人,殺人是惡,違反十誡,但打「正義之戰」,就不得不殺人,故此是「必要之惡」。

在羅馬君士坦丁大帝(Constantine the Great)在位期間,他頒令天主教為國教,教廷的勢力日益壯大,不單天主教至尊無上,且教廷擁有政治、經濟甚至軍事權力。聖奧古斯丁的「惡非實體論」來得十分及時,無他,教廷插手世俗事務,難免要「兩惡取其輕」和作一些「必要之惡」。聖奧古斯丁正正在教義上「合理化」此等行為。

時至當今,羅馬教廷有時也要順應時代。比如教宗若望保祿二世(Pope John Paul II)在《生命的福音》通諭(Evangelium Vitae)中就說到:教廷雖認為墮胎是作惡,但假如無法阻止墮胎合法化,教徒只能盡量減少其禍害。這就是「兩惡取其輕」矣!教宗本篤十六世(Pope Benedict XVI)亦發過通諭指出,教廷雖反對避孕和使用避孕工具,但在HIV 肆虐的地區,使用避孕套、派安全針筒予吸毒者,不算是助紂為虐,協助犯宗教的罪。

由此可見,教廷沒有明言,現實是默許「兩惡取其輕」。畢竟,正如佐治奧威爾(George Orwell)所言:「政治是兩惡取其小。」(Politics is the choice between the lesser of two evils.)

撰文 : 占飛

善惡 一銀兩面

世間事往往善惡混雜,不易清楚的劃出界線:說這樣做就是善,那樣做就是惡。任何選擇,都可能有利有弊。斯時也,應該如何抉擇?

雙面效應原則

耶教倫理學家於是提出「雙面效應原則」(The principle of double effect)。簡要言之,這個原則包括下列4點:(1)該選擇或行為必須本身是善的,至少無善無惡。(2)該選擇或行為之善,不能由惡達至。換句話說,不能先作惡,以取得善果。比如「地獄式訓練」培養運動精英,就違反了這個原則,因為誰都不敢肯定「地獄式訓練」必修成正果。萬一失敗,受「地獄式訓練」者身心受損,卻無法成為精英運動員,豈不是未見其利,先受其害;作了惡,而善不可得?

(3)行動者選擇某一行為時,動機須為善,不是為惡。好心做壞事不算作惡。比如捐款救災,善款卻被貪官據為私有,持財作惡,那不算違反這個原則。但捐款動機不是為救濟災民,而是沽名釣譽,那便不算為善矣!(4)行為的後果必須合乎比例的善惡兼得,且善多於惡。

第(4)個條件是最難達至的。事前,誰敢肯定行為產生的後果必然善多於惡?冷戰期間,美國視共產陣營為萬惡之首,惡莫大於共產主義或社會主義,因此,美國對殘民以自肥,孟子所謂「聞誅一夫紂矣」的一夫獨裁者,也給予金錢援助和武器供一夫鎮壓人民,並以「兩惡取其輕」合理化這個外交政策──此政策名為柯克帕特里克主義(The Kirkpatrick Doctrine)──列根正是遵從柯克帕特里克主義而支持危地馬拉、菲律賓、阿根廷等國的獨裁政權,以及安哥拉、尼加拉瓜等地的反蘇游擊隊。最不智的是,援助和訓練阿富汗的聖戰士乃至拉登、塔利班等,間接導致現今的伊斯蘭激進恐怖主義。凡此種種均說明,當初以為選擇的是「較小之惡」(Lesser evil),發展下去,卻變成「較大之惡」(Greater evil)!

撰文 : 占飛


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Can battered Hong Kong regain some of its dignity in the eyes of Beijing?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-09
Michael Heng says events like the 2014 Occupy protests could have been handled much better if all those involved had adhered to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle
For the first time in his ­annual work report to the National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) publicly condemned the notion of Hong Kong independence. He warned that the movement would lead nowhere. On this point, Li can expect the support of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.To the vast majority of Hongkongers, the idea of independence is simply and obviously untenable.

The demand for independence has been spearheaded by an extreme group within the pro-democracy movement. Two young pro-independence campaigners elected to the Legislative Council used the oath-taking ceremony last September to make a political point. Other than being a publicity stunt, it has done nothing to advance the cause of democracy in the city. On the contrary, the pair’s deliberately irreverent antics have generated a deep split within society. No wonder 2016 was described by some as a chaotic year.

Hong Kong has long been known for its pragmatism, tolerance, culture of moderation, openness and vibrancy. So, today, it is natural to ask: what has gone wrong?

The entry point for inquiry is the year 2014. In the 20 years since the return of Hong Kong to China, that year was probably the most interesting – for all the wrong reasons.

It was a year when a movement for greater democracy in September morphed into a massive street demonstration, known the world over as the “umbrella movement”.

The city’s culture of moderation is deep-seated. The annual mass gathering held to mark the June 4 Tiananmen incident, for example, has always proceeded without trouble. Even the Falun Gong, outlawed on the mainland, are allowed to operate in Hong Kong, albeit with some restrictions. The protest in 2012 against national education was resolved quite amicably. Many were expecting that good tradition to be displayed again in 2014. That is why they were taken aback by the sight of a peaceful, festive movement degenerating into street clashes between protesters and police, with some ugly scenes.

Police officers clash with pro-democracy protesters at Tamar on November 30, 2014. Photo: Dickson Lee

Anyone with political common sense would know that what happens in Hong Kong will have repercussions in Taiwan.

And so it is important to recall that the Occupy movement in September 2014, came just two months ahead of local elections in Taiwan.

Given this small time gap and Hong Kong’s usual self-restraint, it is perhaps puzzling that the Occupy movement was not handled with more sensitivity, skill and wisdom. It was certainly not an event that merited descriptions of moderation, magnanimity or far-sightedness.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Hong Kong protest, with yellow umbrellas as its symbol, was an important factor in swaying voters in Taiwan to dump Kuomintang candidates in the local elections. I was teaching in Taiwan at the time, and had friends in both major parties. My KMT friends were disgusted and asked aloud, “Why is Beijing undermining us and helping our political opponents?”

In the absence of reliable information, I could only offer a conspiracy theory of sorts – that, perhaps, the crazy mess in Hong Kong was connected with power conflicts at the very top of the Communist Party. Perhaps those in Zhongnanhai responsible for Hong Kong wanted to embarrass President Xi Jinping ( 習近)?

As expected, the KMT suffered a disastrous defeat, which demoralised the party and created a favourable political environment for the Democratic Progressive Party in the general election in January last year.

Taiwan now has a DPP president and vice-president, and the party enjoys a majority in the Legislative Yuan. This political configuration is not something that Beijing had hoped for, or wants to see.

Moreover, Hong Kong’s image of a city of restraint and pragmatism has been dented by the sequence of events since that fateful month in 2014. What can the city do to rebuild its image?

Luckily, there is very little support in Hong Kong for the idea of independence. Based on this, we may conclude that Premier Li’s warning was primarily intended for his audience on the mainland.

For Hongkongers, of greater relevance was his statement that Beijing is committed to the principle of “one country, two systems” and the framework would be applied without being “bent or distorted”. He told the NPC: “We will continue to ­implement, both to the letter and in spirit, the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, under which Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong.”

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during the opening of the fifth session of the 12th National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on March 5. Photo: Bloomberg

This is good news, because the unpleasant events of 2014 could have been avoided if those involved had abided by the letter and spirit of “one country, two systems”.

It is this principle that has largely enabled the continued prosperity of the city over the past 20 years, without undermining its pragmatism and spirit of inclusiveness.

Coming from the mouth of the second most powerful man in the political establishment in Beijing, these words essentially lay down the parameters of political life in Hong Kong. This part of his speech was addressed to the people in Hong Kong, especially to those holding the levers of power.

Michael Heng is a retired professor who had academic appointments in Australia, the Netherlands, and at six universities in Asia