One Country, two state systems Policy:
Hong Kong-China Ties Explained

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam exchange handshakes.


“One country, two state systems” policy is one of the recently developed concepts of administration. The concept “One Country, Two Systems,” also called the scientific method of administration according to Chinese officials, was developed by Den Xiaoping in practicing their PRC relationship with Hong Kong and other administrative regions.

The concept basically demonstrates that ‘One Country’ represents the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or Mainland China, and ‘Two Systems’  prevail in the economic system: the PRC as a socialist and Hong Kong and others as capitalists in their dealings with economics, and both systems would be undertaken by PRC authorities.

However, for explaining the above title, I would like to clarify at first the concept of “One Country, Two Systems,” then I would try to focus on the application of the policy toward Hong Kong, and I would conclude by presenting the controversies. Is there any need for reformation?

From history, Chinese civilization has contributed to the world’s academia of knowledge, including how to govern or administer. “One Country, Two Systems” is one of them. It is a novel by Deng Xiaoping. Hence, “One Country” represents the People Republic of China (PRC), in which Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is counted as an essential part of the PRC.

And for both the PRC and HKSAR, the sovereign command of China would be applicable. Here, “One Country” demonstrates a unitary system of governing, and for the Chinese System, this legacy would be applied to the central authority of the PRC, and the PRC would enjoy sovereign jurisdiction over its local and administrative regions.

Besides, the PRC doesn’t believe in decentralization of power but rather centralization. Hence, Hong Kong doesn’t enjoy autonomous, but rather semi-autonomous governing. Moreover, there is no ambiguity in the definition of “one country” for the PRC’s side. 

With China’s Constitution stipulating in clear-cut terms that the country follows a fundamental system of socialism, the basic system, core leadership, and guiding thought of the “one country” have been explicitly provided for.

The most important thing to do in upholding the “one country” principle is to maintain China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests and respect the country’s fundamental system and other systems and principles [1].

Through the “two systems,” Deng Xiaoping identified that the “One Country” means the mainland China or PRC would follow socialism as their way of ruling, and Hong Kong and others would practice the norms of capitalism. 

According to the PRC’s constitution, “One Country” is the premise and basis of the “Two Systems,” and the “Two Systems” are subordinate to and derive from “One Country” [2].

The constitution also ensures that both systems can enhance their ideologies—socialism and capitalism—as much as they want. But the premise of “One Country,” which embraces socialism, will not change. 

Therefore, “One Country means PRC because of its constitutional socialist system, which would act as a protector of the Hong Kong system of capitalism and support its stability and prosperity.

After returning to China, it was hoped that the unheard policy of “One Country, Two Systems” would be the best option for Hong Kong, but scholars, mostly Westerners, were in doubt and suspicious about Chinese honoring their promises as “One Country.” 

However, before returning, the discussion of the policy was undertaken to resolve the Taiwan questions. A three-part strategy governing this unique formula was adopted, namely [3]:

  1. Hong Kong’s Basic Law was enacted to separate the two systems;
  2. A minimalist approach is taken to realize the concept of “one country”;
  3. A peaceful solution to every difference that happens between the two systems

But, this hope for good turned into pessimism when the massacre was done by the Chinese Central authorities at Tiananmen Square. As this suppression was against Western values, civil and political rights protests. And this ultimately created fear among the people of Hong Kong, as they had become habituated to Western norms.

Though China has been rude in dealing with the question of civil and political rights, after taking an open-door policy under Deng Xiaoping, China is very eager to facilitate the economic activities of HKSAR and other administrative regions. 

The PRC understood from the very first day that HKSAR could play a vital role as an economic partner, accelerate the modernization process in China, and also facilitate the Taiwanese reunification process with China.

The post-handover of the Hong Kong era was almost smooth between the PRC and HKSAR, but Chinese officials’ made some confusing remarks over civil and political rights, elections, the FalunGon movement, etc. Simultaneously, popular discontent arose in Hong Kong internal societies over the above remarks and doubts about systems.

However, there have been many contradictions and controversies between the PRC and HKSAR since the beginning, namely [4]:

  • The emerging of the Falun Gong spiritual movement;
  • The Chief Executive Tung’s much inclination toward the interests of “One Country”;
  • Election dilemma over Tung’s second term with Beijing support;
  • The forced resignation of the former Chief Secretary of HASKAR, Anson Chan, in January 2001;
  • Chinese influence on the political and academic freedom of Hong Kong’s people;
  • Chinese interference in HASKAR judicial organs and the rule of law;
  • Chinese pressure, directly or indirectly, on freedom of the press and censorship in journalism;
  • HKSAR concerns achieving jurisdiction over foreign affairs, etc.

However, since the beginning, public protests and popular discontent have arisen many times in HKSAR, like what happened last year, when a peaceful people’s rally turned into the most sparking protest for all of Hong Kong as the PRC used suppression again. 

But this situation needs to be solved. Scholars from both sides provide many recommendations to political personnel, including the need for some amendments to the formula.

But the majority of scholars reject amendments to the formula; rather, they say that “One Country, Two Systems” remains the optimal model for managing relations between Hong Kong and China. 

Rejuvenating the model, however, requires adapting it to address the political, socioeconomic, and cultural concerns of the Hong Kong public, and this would be impossible without structural reforms in how political consultation, policy-making, and accountability-maintenance are enacted [5]. 

And we hope that both the PRC and HKSAR will continue their relations as well as possible through some reformation. We hope so.  


1 The practice of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy in the HongKong Special Administration Region Information Office of Council The People’s Republic of China June 2014, Beijing.

2 The practice of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy in the HongKong Special Administration Region Information Office of Council The People’s Republic of China June 2014, Beijing. 2

3 By Chris Yeung Visiting Fellow, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies Foreign Policy Studies Program  Brookings Institution June 2001.  

4 By Chris Yeung Visiting Fellow, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies Foreign Policy Studies Program  Brookings Institution June 2001.

5 Wang J. (2019). One Country, Two Systems “ Is Still The Best Formula, But Badly Need Reform


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