The former chief justice and handover pioneer says talks on the future of 'one country, two systems' must start within the next two decades
Gary Cheung firstname.lastname@example.org
The city's former top judge, who took part in a historic trip 30 ago years to Beijing for talks with the central government's leaders on Hong Kong's future, has called on settling the future of "one country, two systems" in 15 to 20 years' time.
Andrew Li Kwok-nang, who retired as chief justice in 2010, made the call when he reflected on the 30th anniversary of the "Young Professionals Delegation", which headed north to express their views on Hong Kong's future.
Li was a member of the 12-strong Hong Kong group that also comprised legislators Allen Lee Peng-fei, Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee and barrister Martin Lee Chu-ming.
The professionals left on a six-day trip to Beijing on May 16, 1983. They asked National People's Congress vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun, father of President Xi Jinping, and the widow of former premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Yingchao, to extend Britain's lease on Hong Kong when it expired in 1997.
It was the first group to propose "Chinese sovereignty-British administration" for Hong Kong.
"Reflecting on the last 30 years, they [the young professionals] have seen the phenomenal rise of China, our motherland, as a modern nation and the reunification of Hong Kong, our homeland, with her," Li told the South China Morning Post over the weekend.
"It has been my good fortune to have lived through these historic times and to have been given the opportunity to serve and to participate in the successful implementation of 'one country, two systems'."
Li went on to say that in about 15 to 20 years' time, the future of Hong Kong after 2047 would have to be discussed and settled.
The former top judge pointed to the fact that a 25-year mortgage taken out in 2022 will expire in 2047.
"Our next generation of leaders will have to shoulder this responsibility," Li said. "I am optimistic that as long as all concerned appreciate that one country as well as two systems are integral parts of the formula, we can continue after 2047 to maintain our own separate system based on respect for human dignity, with our own core values and our freedoms."
As the years eat into the 50-year lifespan of "one country, two systems" - already almost a third of the time has gone and the halfway mark is in a decade - there are many questions that have yet to be answered. Some academics and specialists say these questions need to be resolved now, particularly for issues stretching beyond 2047, such as property ownership.
Li told law undergraduates at the University of Hong Kong in November that the future of "one country, two systems" would have to be discussed and settled well before the end of the 50 years in 2047, probably around 2030.
But he did not elaborate on which aspects would have to be settled at the time. Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping promised in the early 1980s that Hong Kong's economic system and civil liberties would remain unchanged for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
Allen Lee, who headed the delegation in 1983, is organising a reunion dinner in early July.