By accident or design, the eruption of political violence in Hong Kong has opened the way for direct rule from Beijing. It is unlikely radical new measures to bring Britain’s former colony to heel will be imposed overnight. But furious official statements in response to Monday’s unprecedented clashes suggest the “one country, two systems” principle that has kept capitalist Hong Kong functioning alongside, and within, communist China for the past 22 years could be on its last legs.
This long-simmering crisis of mutual confidence, now finding expression through physical confrontation, is exactly what the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, which laid legal grounds for the 1997 handover, was intended to avoid. It states unambiguously that “the current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the lifestyle. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly … and of religious belief will be ensured by law.”