CY Leung, Achievements of China and a Vision of its Future
Former HK chief CY Leung gives address at Foreign Correspondents' Club
Ms Schneider, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon. Thank you for your invitation.
When I was a student in England I came across this book -- "Key Treaties for the Great Powers 1814-1914". It was a catalogue of extraordinary humiliation for China. As a school student in Hong Kong, I had learnt about some of these treaties but had never read the full texts. So I decided to own them, spending about 6-hours worth of wages as a part-time helper in a Chinese fish and chips shop.
The owner of the shop, a Mr Li, was from Zhongshan in Guangdong. The Chinese people like to ask each other not their place of birth but where their origin was - in Cantonese, 鄉下喺邊道？and in Putonghua 老家在哪裡？For me, 老家was Weihaiwei in Shangdong, a small town built around a naval base in the Ching Dynasty near the tip of the Shangdong Peninsula. My parents came to Hong Kong from Weihaiwei when they were teenagers, my father to work in the Hong Kong Police. We lived in policed married quarters. 5 doors away from our cubicle was another Shandong policeman working for the Special Branch.
Weihaiwei was featured in two Treaties in the book, the Treaty of Shimonoseki with Japan in 1895 under which Japan was allowed temporary occupation "as a guarantee of faithful performance of the stipulations of this Act...." which included a war indemnity of 200 million Kuping Taels, and the second the "Convention between Great Britain and China respecting Weihaiwei" which was signed on 1st July 1898, the very day when the lease over the New Territories of Hong Kong commenced. The British had been busy.
The Ching dynasty ended in 1911, soon after these treaties. My father was born in that year. Nationalist rule lasted only 38 years, not long after the Japanese invasion. My mother for whom I have great admiration was born after the end of the Ching Dynasty, but the old custom of binding the feet of young girls had persisted. The Nationalist Government sent inspectors to try to stop this cruel practice. They were chased away by the locals. The majority of the people were in favour of this old custom. And so my mother had her feet bound 15 years after the end of the Ching Dynasty. The majority were wrong, very wrong.
Then the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, the year when my elder sister was born. As for me, I was born in 1954, which in the traditional 60-year cycle, was a year of Jiawu (甲午) the previous Jiawu being 1894, widely known for the war with Japan, as a result of which China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki and lost Taiwan. My family was typical – every member owning a personal piece of Chinese history. Our generation did not need to be told what to do being Chinese.
History is a line and not scattered dots. I am giving you a rather long, but only a small part of China's modern history for two purposes, first to set the background leading to the founding of the People's Republic 70 years ago, and secondly to remind all of us the historical context in which China and its people lived the past and how they view the future. We want to be able to focus on the advancement of the Country. We do not need reprisals. But this question often comes to my mind- what if the treaties in my book had never forced its way into Chinese history?
The early years of the People's Republic were not easy. Shenzhen was the first place on the Mainland that I visited. It was 1977, 28 years into the Peoples Republic, also the year before the reforms were launched. The population was probably 20,000 with no motor vehicles. Now Shenzhen is the city on the Mainland that has the highest GDP per capita. I brought a loaf of bread from Hong Kong for lunch because I did not have food coupons. For many years since 1978, I went there again to teach.
In 1979 I took a long and slow train ride from Beijing to Shanxi. The scenes outside the windows were unflattering: grey, barren and depressing. It might just be my imagination but I thought I saw the scars of wars and political turmoil.
Nationwide reforms were launched in 1978, 29 years after the founding of the People's Republic. So the past 70 years are made up of 29 years of planned economy and 41 years of market economy. Many in the middle-aged generation now have no personal experience of the planned economy and the food coupons. By now, there have been too many reforms to recount. To me the 1988 land and housing reforms were the most exciting.
China now has the largest real estate market in the world which has attracted much outside investments and all the major foreign professional consultancies. Land sales have become a major source of government revenue and real estate a major asset for private individuals, families and corporates. Often we overlook the fact that it only took the short span of 31 years for all these to happen. When I started working as a pro bono adviser to the Shanghai government in the 1980s and helped draft the first land sale document of the People's Republic in 1988, no one expected this new reform initiative to take hold and spread as quickly as it has. The housing reform that was started in the same year was equally impactful and far-reaching. The Mainland now has a higher owner-occupation rate than Hong Kong's. Housing space per head is twice that in Hong Kong. How could one reconcile these with the socialist doctrine of state land ownership? The answer is we did it in a typically Chinese pragmatic way.
With handsome revenue from land sales, local governments have been able to re-build cities and the countryside. Weihai which my parents were told to leave when they were teenagers because there was not enough food on the table is now a very liveable seaside city. I proudly invite you to visit this 老家of mine. Or perhaps Country Life could start a Weihai edition?
Achievements in the past 70 years are plentiful. I shall not use GDP growth figures. Let us look at the people to people interactions. The Country is now much more open, both way. In 2018, 71 million or 5% of the Mainland Chinese population visited foreign countries. In the same year, 662,000 Mainland Chinese students were studying overseas. The meaning of these figures is of course much more than bringing revenue to the tourism and educations sectors. By way of humanitarian aid, since 1963, 280 million patients in 71 countries have been treated by Chinese medical teams.
On the political side, there are also plenty of notable achievements, the latest being the decisions of the fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party in October. In the previous month, the first Central Conference in the 70-year history of the CPPCC was held. President Xi emphasised the role of the CPPCC "as a major political and organisational body for implementing the new model of political party system…." These major political events have been under-reported by the Western media, partly because of the absence of English texts. In the past few years, the CPPCC has been reviewing its role in the Chinese political system. This is how I see it. China has a multi-party system, non-adversarial and not plebiscitary. The CPPCC is the dedicated body for consensus building. 60% of the members of the National Committee are not Communist Party members. Regularly group meetings are held to discuss in-depth topical issues such as the environment, the shared economy, healthcare and poverty elimination. The meetings are attended by members, outside experts, stakeholders, and high ranking officials. There is no grandstanding, no filibustering or heated arguments. Not dramatic to watch but it achieves the objective of finding solutions that are acceptable to most to move forward.
The future of China and the visions, covering the full range of subjects from deepening reforms and opening up, poverty elimination, scientific and technological developments to the respective roles of the state-owned and private enterprises, have been well discussed internally within the Communist Party, the CPPCC and the populace. China watchers in the West have a lot of catching up to do. I have my own wish list. I wish we could facilitate more young people from other countries to experience China, for them to form their own views.
Achievement is one thing. Being recognised by the international community to have achieved is another. Throughout the past 70 years, China has been at the receiving end of numerous uninvited and mostly unwarranted criticisms from the West on issues that do not touch on bilateral relationships. Some of these have become China-bashing. These commentators believe that they are better and know enough about China and its past. Please don't take offence, as someone who knows a tiny bit about the West, after all these years it is still beyond me as to why people in the West make it a habit of opening their mouths about other countries as if they had done better dealing with their own domestic problems.
Hong Kong has been an easy proxy and a soft target of China. It has been drafted by the West to join the ranks of Xinjiang and Tibet. China has been constantly told what democracy, the freedoms and human rights should mean under "one country, two systems". Somehow these commentators never bothered other places in Asia about the same issues with the same yardsticks. Would this be because these other places are not part of China?
At exactly mid-point in the 70-year history of the People's Republic, namely 1984, China and the United Kingdom signed the Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong. This was historic - the first step towards the goal of complete reunification of China.
The adoption of the "one country, two systems" principle to re-unite the Country is by no means expedient. Indeed, in the Decisions of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee meeting, "one country, two systems" is regarded as one of the systemic advantages that China enjoys. I do not expect and do not see the need to move away from the "one country, two systems" principle after 2047, provided the democrats in Hong Kong and their Western supporters do not undermine it. We may take note of the fact that already Hong Kong has been allowed to grant land leases well beyond 2047. Those granted this year have 2069 as the expiry dates.
In my numerous meetings with Beijing and other Mainland officials in the full course of the transition from 1984 to 1997, one thing was obvious. The return of Hong Kong was not just about adding back a thousand square kilometres of land to the Chinese territory. It was the beginning of an end to more than a century of humiliation. The Preamble to the Basic Law carries these words in the very first paragraph "Hong Kong has been part of the territory of China since ancient times; it was occupied by Britain after the Opium War in 1840. On 19 December 1984, the Chinese and British Governments signed the Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, affirming that the Government of the People's Republic of China will resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from 1 July 1997, thus fulfilling the long-cherished common aspiration of the Chinese people for the recovery of Hong Kong." When cities such as Shanghai which carry the heavy financial burden of supporting the Country were consulted on the Basic Law drafts, they endorsed it unreservedly despite the exemption of Hong Kong from contributing to the Central Government coffers. Hong Kong is useful to China in many ways, but "the long-cherished common aspiration of the Chinese people for the recovery of Hong Kong" is overriding. Some of the speakers at previous FCC luncheons may reflect on this.
Hong Kong returned to China with a very special political structure and an equally special electoral process. Too often the democrats in Hong Kong look to models in other countries without regard to the fact that Hong Kong is not a country. If we want to look for parallels, we should be looking to other local democracies such as London, New York, Paris or Tokyo. These cities have universal suffrage and the Central or Federal governments do not have any role in the appointment of the elected mayor. But these elected mayors have very limited powers compared to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. I am certain that if the Hong Kong Chief Executive only had limited powers comparable to those of the above-mentioned mayors, Beijing would straight away give Hong Kong the green light to go ahead with universal suffrage without its involvement. In reality, Beijing has reserved powers under the Basic Law in the selection of the Chief Executive, whatever the method of election. The reason is simple. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong has to have the additional mandate of the Central Government through the appointment process to attain the additional powers for Hong Kong to have the high degree of autonomy – higher than cities in other democratic countries.
Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy is well-rehearsed. The high degree of, not the full, autonomy, can be found in many of the 160 articles of the Basic Law by which the Central Authorities, and not just the Central Government, have reserved onto themselves powers that have not been given to Hong Kong. As an example, the National People's Congress reserves the authority to "approve" any amendment of the method of selecting the Chief Executives. This is an example and also an important point on its own. Anson Chan was patently wrong when she said in her speech on 2 July 2014 to the FCC that on universal suffrage "Beijing has moved the goal posts." She went on record to have said “If you look at Annex I of the Basic Law, Annex I says if there is a need to amend the arrangements for electing the Chief Executive, in 2017, or in 2007 at that time, past 2007, then it has to obtain the endorsement of two-thirds of Legco Members, secure the approval of the Chief Executive and be reported to the NPC. Notice "reported", no mention that we have to seek the approval of the Central Government." Let me now read out the actual wording of the paragraph 7 of Annex I to the Basic Law "If there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executives for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval." I find it extremely puzzling as to how Anson Chan could have dropped the words "for approval" in a prepared speech to accuse Beijing of "moving the goal posts" and how she was not corrected by the audience. Of course, much of Hong Kong was misled.
Anson Chan was not alone. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also wrong on the autonomy point when she said on 21 November 2019 at the bill enrollment ceremony that "Sadly, without question, China's promise of full autonomy for Hong Kong has been utterly broken. For years, the world has seen the people of Hong Kong be increasingly denied their full autonomy and faced with a cruel crackdown of their freedom." Only last month, on 15 October, when she delivered remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives, she said "In 1984, before the United Kingdom transferred Hong Kong to China, the Chinese government promised a high degree of autonomy for the territory in the Joint Declaration of the Question of Hong Kong…". So in 5 weeks, the goal posts were moved -- a high degree of autonomy had become full autonomy and, China is guilty.
On the other side of the Atlantic, on 17 November 2019, Baroness Bennett of the United Kingdom, co-chair of the Westminster Friends of Hong Kong weighed in. She twitted the following: "The Chief Executive has control over lethal force that is being directed at demonstrators who are seeking the right to democracy and self-determination that they are supposed to be guaranteed by the Joint Declaration."
The Joint Declaration did not guarantee "self-determination". As for democracy, the Joint Declaration says "The chief executive will be appointed by the Central People’s Government on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally". So even if we were to have consultations instead of elections, it would not be in breach of the Joint Declaration. We can comfortably believe that the United Kingdom signed the Joint Declaration with their eyes open. The follies of the democrats in Hong Kong and their Western allies have made consultation as a method of selecting Chief Executives more likely.
The outstanding achievement of China in the peaceful recoveries of Hong Kong and Macao under the "one country, two systems" principle, allowing the people of the two SAR's to retain their lifestyles and protecting foreign investments is now being distorted in a different light -- China breaking its promises and threatening the freedoms, the rights of the residents.
Let's go back to the democratic arrangement for Hong Kong. We could have a process that does not involve Beijing and that would produce a Chief Executive who has powers similar to a mayor's. Or we could have the process that is prescribed in the Basic Law that gives Hong Kong the high degree of autonomy but with Beijing exercising its authority. If we want to have our cake and eat it, by changing to universal suffrage as the method of producing the Chief Executive elect without Beijing’s approval, or electing and then installing the Chief Executive without giving Beijing the right not to appoint, that for all intent and purposes is secession. The umbrella movement in 2014 wanted exactly that. Now, the last of the five demands of the black-clad movement is a repeat of the same.
Some democrats have been trying to force Beijing's hand. The radicals among them want to provoke Beijing to the extent that Beijing's reactions would be regarded as failure of the "one country, two systems" arrangement.
An American living in Hong Kong recently wrote to his Congressmen. I quote from one of his letters, "The world is NOT seeing the truth of HK. And you are only perpetuating that lie. It is seeing a facade of half-truths created by one nation with the sole intent of undermining another nation hoping to curtail the continued emergence of that nation on the world stage. The world is seeing a singular view of HK events from the lenses of those who wish to destroy its parent, where the only possible outcome is to completely sacrifice the child."
In another letter he said, "If you don't understand something don't weigh in."
Ladies and gentlemen, China has come a long way from the days of foreign aggression, public humiliation, foreign partition, famines, poverty and the "bamboo curtain". We should all see China for what it is. It is now open, confident, fast-changing and integrating with other parts the world. It is also a vast country steep in culture and custom. I am proud to be Chinese and am thankful for having the opportunity to serve. I invite you to visit and see for yourself and feel for yourself. The high-speed train station is less than half an hour away from the Club.
我在英國留學時，在書店遇到這本書 【大國之間的主要條約1814-1914】。這是一部中國屈辱史。我在香港唸中學時，已經接觸了其中一些條約，但從未閱讀全文。因此，我決定買下這本書，花了我在一家中國人開的炸魚薯條店做大約6 小時兼職的工資。
這家店的老闆李先生來自廣東中山。中國人喜歡問對方的不是他們的出生地，而是問他們的祖籍，廣東話是「鄉下喺邊道？」，普通話是「老家在哪裡？」。對我來說，老家是山東省威海衛，一個接近山東半島尖端，清朝海軍基地旁的小鎮。我父母十幾歲時從威海衛來到香港，父親當警察，我們住在警隊已婚宿舍，距我們單位 5 個門住的是另一家山東警察，在政治部工作。
之後，中華人民共和國成立於1949年，那年我姐姐出生。至於我，我出生於1954年，是甲午年，上一個甲午是1894年，因與日本的戰爭而廣為人知，因為戰敗，中國簽署了《馬關條約》，失去台灣。我的家人很典型 - 每個成員都和中國歷史事件帶上個關係。我們這一代毋需別人告訴我們如何做個中國人。
中華人民共和國成立初期並不容易。深圳是我第一個踏足大陸的地方。那是改革開始的前一年 - 1977年，那時中華人民共和國成立了28年。當時深圳沒有汽車，人口大約為2萬，今天的深圳是大陸人均GDP最高的城市 。那次我從香港帶了一袋麵包作為午餐，因為我沒有糧票。1978年後的多年，我經常去深圳講課。
1978 年， 當時中華人民共和國已成立29年， 國家啟動了改革開放。至今，中華人民共和國70年的歷史是由29年的計劃經濟和41年的市場經濟所組成。現在，許多中年人都沒有親身經歷過計劃經濟和糧票。今天，中國已進行了數之不盡的改革，我個人最感興奮的是1988年的土地使用制度和住房改革。
過去70年來的成就非常豐富多樣。我不想用GDP增長數據， 反而我將指出人與人之間交往的變化。今天的中國更加開放，雙向地開放。 2018年，中國大陸有7,125萬人到外國旅遊，是總人口的百分之五。同年，有66萬名中國大陸學生在海外學習。這些數字的含義當然不僅僅是為旅遊和教育部門帶來收入。同時自1963年以來，中國外派醫療隊為71個國家的2.8億患者提供了治療。
中國做到這些成就是一回事，被國際社會承認為成就， 又是另一回事。在過去的70年中，中國一直受到來自西方的，不涉及雙邊關係的許多不請自來而且大多是毫無根據的批評。其中一部份已經變成慣常的「抨擊中國」。這些評論員認為，他們較中國人優秀， 對中國和中國的過去知得更多。恕我直言，我這個算是對西方有丁點了解的人，這些年來，也一直弄不明白為何西方人總是養成對其他國家隨便開口的習慣，好像他們已經妥善處理好自己國家的問題。
在中華人民共和國成立70周年的中間點，即1984年，中國和英國簽署了《聯合聲明》。這是歷史性的 - 朝著完全統一中國的目標邁出的第一步。
我在1984年至1997年間與中央和其他官員的無數次會晤中，有一件事是非常清楚的。香港的回歸不僅僅是收復一千平方公里的領土， 而是一個多世紀以來的屈辱的終結。 《基本法》的序言在第一段中就是這樣寫的：「香港自古以來就是中國領土； 1840年鴉片戰爭後被英國佔領。1984年12月19日，中英兩國政府簽署了《香港問題聯合聲明》，確認中華人民共和國政府於1997年7 月1日恢復對香港行使主權，從而實現了長期以來中國人民收回香港的共同願望。」當時上海等城市負擔了國家開支的大部分，但當《基本法》草案在這些城市作諮詢時，儘管內裡有豁免香港向中央政府繳稅的條文，但這些城市仍然毫無保留地贊同該草案。香港在很多方面對中國都是有用的，但「長期以來中國人民收回香港的共同願望」是壓倒性的。過去在香港外國記者會作演講的嘉賓，應該反思這一點。
陳方安生並非唯一例子。美國眾議院議長佩洛西（Nancy Pelosi）在2019年11月21日的法案通過會議上說：「毫無疑問，中國已不再遵守對香港享有完全自治的諾言。多年來，全世界越來越看清香港人民被剝奪了完全的自治權，其自由正被殘酷地鎮壓。」就在上個月，即10月15日，她在眾議院講話時，她還說：「1984年，在英國將香港移交給中國之前，中國政府在《聯合聲明》中承諾給香港實行高度自治……」。在5個星期內，她搬了龍門 - 高度自治權變成完全自治權，中國因而「破壞承諾」而需要負責。
在大西洋彼岸，2019年11月17日，英聯合王國的西敏寺香港之友的聯合主席，本內特女男爵（Baroness Bennett）也幫腔。她說：「行政長官控制了致命武器， 並以此來對付要求落實《聯合聲明》內保證的民主和自決權利的示威者。 」
中國按照「一國兩制」原則和平收回香港及澳門，容許兩地人民保持生活方式不變並且保護外國投資者，是一項傑出成就，但這成就現在正在被扭曲 - 中國被視為違反承諾及威脅居民的自由和權利。
Quote of the Day
Asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think that would be a good idea.”