SCMP: To win over Hong Kong and Taiwan, Xi’s China must break a 2,000-year tradition

Far from enabling China’s peaceful reunification, the one country, two systems model is undermining it. Perhaps this was inevitable, owing to a cause more fundamental than Xi’s centralisation of power, the Communist Party’ increasing interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, or even the basic contradiction between a one-party regime and a multiparty democracy. The Chinese state, built on a centuries-old paradigm of political order, cannot cope with intergovernmental conflict.

Modern democracy is based on division, within society and the state. In society, different groups compete for representation. In the state, there is a horizontal separation of powers (among the legislative, executive and judicial branches) and a vertical division of powers (among national and subnational governments).

Conflicts between national and subnational governments, however, were historically divided into three categories – warlordism, insubordination and foreign threat. To this day, China’s rulers distrust leaders with a local base, often choosing outsiders as provincial governors and party bosses.

From the Chinese government’s perspective, “Hong Kong ruled by Hongkongers” was already a risky concession. So it ruled out a directly elected chief executive and worked to suppress the opposition.

This backfired. China’s interference undermined the ability of older “democrats” who identified as Chinese to deliver the changes the people demanded, so they were replaced by younger “localists”. When China attempted to suppress these figures, resistance intensified.

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