Charles Li, head of the Hong Kong stock exchange (HKEX), has publicly questioned the “one country, two systems” framework governing the territory’s relationship with mainland China.
In a speech in London last night, Li said the model had “fundamental flaws” in how it was implemented from the outset, the Financial Times reported.
Li’s comments come shortly after concerns about HKEX’s autonomy from Beijing helped scupper its unsolicited £32bn bid for the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which the bourse abandoned earlier this month.
“One country, two systems” is the model under which the financial hub was granted a degree of autonomy after it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Speaking at the London Metal Exchange’s annual dinner, Li said mainland China had never trusted the people of Hong Kong to respect the “one country” aspect of the framework.
“That lack of trust is a key reason why China is reluctant to give Hong Kong people… self-determination — two systems,” he said.
Hong Kong has been wracked by often-violent anti-government protests for months, sparked by a proposed bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China, and was seen by demonstrators as an erosion of the territory’s autonomy.
Although the bill was scrapped earlier this month, the protests have evolved into calls for greater freedom from Beijing.
In his speech last night, Li said “the only thing” Hong Kongers were denied under the “one country, two systems” framework is “political rights”.
He said that if the city’s residents want to use political rights “to oppose China’s sovereignty” over the city, “that’s a dead end”, but if Hong Kongers want to use them to solve local issues, Beijing “shouldn’t have a problem”.
HKEX abandoned its bid for LSE after the London bourse rejected the offer outright earlier this month.
Concerns had been raised that the offer would not receive regulatory approval as Hong Kong’s government, which answers to Beijing, appoints the majority of HKEX’s board members.
HKEX is attempting to cement its position as the west’s gateway into the Chinese market, but faces stiff competition from Shanghai and Shenzen.