(Bloomberg) -- China’s plan to allow Hong Kong autonomy had “fundamental flaws” from the start because Beijing never trusted the former British colony to uphold its rule, the head of the city’s stock exchange said.
Charles Li, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd., told a crowd in London on Tuesday that Hong Kong’s recent unrest had exposed problems underlying the “one country, two systems” framework devised before the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. The British gave the city a desire for self-rule that was always a “dead end” with China, he said.
“China never really felt confidence and trust that people in Hong Kong will not oppose to ‘one country,’” Li told an annual dinner at the London Metal Exchange. “So that lack of trust is a key reason why China is reluctant to give Hong Kong people, the local people, the local self-determination, the ‘two systems.’”
The remarks by Li represented a rare high-profile criticism of China’s framework for managing Hong Kong until at least 2047. Under it, Beijing promised to the maintain Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy,” including its freedom of expression, independent judiciary, capitalist financial system and elected legislature.
A wave of protests that erupted in June against now-scrapped legislation that would’ve allowed extraditions to China has since evolved into a broader demand for greater democracy. The city’s Beijing-appointed government has refused to revive plans for direct leadership elections after opposition lawmakers blocked a Communist Party-backed proposal in 2015 that would’ve pre-screened nominees.
“Hong Kong people need to ask ourselves, ‘What do we want it for? What do you want to do with it?’” Li said Tuesday. “Because you want to use it to oppose Chinese sovereignty, that’s a dead-end.”
The one country, two systems concept was embraced by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping as a model to eventually be used to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s rule -- a position reaffirmed by Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this year. The Hong Kong unrest has helped erode Taiwanese support for that plan, with almost 90% of island residents saying they opposed the idea in a survey released earlier this week.
“Are we really putting the blame where the blame should be?” Li said. “If you think about it, the great concept, the great creation of one country, two system is really have some fundamental flaws at the very beginning of the implementation.”
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