A brief explanation from Wiki:

"One country, two systems" is a constitutional principle formulated by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China (PRC), for the reunification of China during the early 1980s. He suggested that there would be only one China, but distinct Chinese regions such as Hong Kong and Macau could retain their own capitalist economic and political systems, while the rest of China uses the socialist system. Under the principle, each of the two regions could continue to have its own political system, legal, economic and financial affairs, including external relations with foreign countries.

China certainly has the military power to completely ignore whatever protests might arise in Hong Kong or Macao, just like they've successfully handled the protests in 2014. Likewise they have enough global clout to completely ignore the opinion of Western states, just like they do with Tibet.

So what's the point of maintaining the system? Couldn't they just announce that China is now fully unified? I assume there's a benefit to China in maintaining the current system, I just don't fully see what it is.

  • hmm... does it still? :-)
    – uhoh
    Aug 29, 2021 at 0:27
  • @uhoh technically yes as there’s still a border between Hong Kong and China. Aug 29, 2021 at 1:07
  • I see; the principle is maintained, technically?
    – uhoh
    Aug 29, 2021 at 1:10

4 Answers 4


A short answer would be that many of the lifestyles differ a lot from mainland China and there are also many others historical, cultural, economic and legal differences.

Hong Kong and Macau both have more of a capitalist system while China has a socialist system at that time. Since both territories are quite well-developed than the mainland at that time, it's also easier for China to control the influx of mainlanders into the SARs which is why a special "passport" ("Two-way Permit") is required for Chinese citizens to enter them.

In addition, guaranteeing the partial autonomy of Hong Kong and Macau was part of China's negotiations to get the British and Portuguese governments to relinquish their ownership interest in the territories.

It's also agreed in the Sino–British Joint Declaration that Hong Kong retains it's SAR status till 2047 and in the Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau that Macau remains an SAR until 2049. Both are treaties that are administered by the United Nations, thus China can't just announce that they are all unified.

  • 2
    The question explicitly states "China can ignore UN when it wants to", so "because UN" sounds like a wholly incorrect answer, provably wrong.
    – user4012
    Jun 11, 2017 at 16:55
  • 6
    Its another thing to ignore the general diplomatic consensus and another thing entirely to go against established treaties they have signed among other things.
    – Leon
    Jun 12, 2017 at 7:28

Hong Kong's economy benefits greatly from the rule of law, low corruption, and strong property rights. If HK were integrated with Mainland China, its advantages in these areas would be compromised. Furthermore, there would be some strife/resistance from the HK population. So, getting rid of 1 Country, 2 Systems would be catastrophic for the HK economy.

  • 3
    As HK has a booming economy, it would appear that China's leaders are content to not meddle too much with it. A wise course of action on their part. Communist manifesto aside, China is being rather practical about that situation: as long as it contributes to the Chinese economy instead of drawing on it, leave HK alone.
    – tj1000
    Jun 12, 2017 at 14:10

In addition to the technical details provided by other answers, it is also because of the fact that Deng's habit of mind was scientific as the English mind was scientific in the 17th century: when orthodox theories began to lose authority, Deng resorted to experience. Deng's policy towards Hong Kong and Macao was his cat theory and feeling-the-stones theory in practice.

As opposed to Mao's nation-wide great-leap-forward style, Deng's economic reform was gradual and piece meal, starting from experiments in tiny SEZs like Shenzhen. Then by carefully studying the pros and cons of these SEZs, he slowly learned what to do and what not to do.

Reforms in the realm of opinions were very promising in the 80s. Virtually no one was persecuted for their opinions, and many outlandish and the most precious books were published during this period. Then came these student movements demanding democracy and freedom. Everything the student said sounded right except that there was no empirical evidence. Hating GLF from the bottom of his gut, Deng decide that the best thing for the students to do was to go back to classrooms. The rest of the story is well-known. History has shown that Deng was right: the collapse of the Soviet Union provided a counter example to the students' democratic ideal, which was as appealing in theory as it was disastrous in practice. The mentality that embraced democracy in 1989 was no different from the ones that embraced communism in 1921 and the ones that embarked on GLF in 1958. Many Russians today still romanticise revolutions and shock therapies, not realizing that they are just GLFs in different forms.

One consequence of the student movements was that the government learned a lesson and tightened up ideological control. If the students in 1989 had foreseen the consequences of their actions, they would have realized the irony: instead of gaining what they demanded, they lost what they already had - the freedom of opinions.

Of course, if Deng had argued like I do in this post, there would have been no need of tanks. If Deng, or any government official, had told the the students that no one knew how democracy would work out among Chinese speakers and it was better to do some experiments first, the students would have come back to their senses. Unfortunately, Deng was not sophisticated; his gut feeling was right, but he did not know how to express it. The best theory Deng could put forth was crossing the river by feeling the stones - a phase that was virtually uncouth to a college student. As a matter of fact, none of the communist revolutionists was sophisticated, otherwise they wouldn't do the revolution thing in the first place; China's ruling elites up until early 1990s consisted entirely of highly intelligent and well-experienced red necks. They still held theories in high regards, but their experiences told them something was not right; in the mist of this anguish, they were tortured by a keen sense of inferiority in front of these well-educated adversaries. Therefore, argue with my tanks!

Hong kong and Macao were basically Deng's SEZs in the realm of government. No matter what Deng's long term plan was, it was not his habit to make sudden changes, be it China going Hong Kong's way or Hong Kong reverting back to China's - this is the essence of crossing the river by feeling the stones - every policy must be field tested somewhere before it is adopted. And, if both are prosperous, there is no need to change either - this is the essence of Deng's cat theory.

Another curious fact is that, in 1989, no one in the ruling party could argue like I do today. I doubt anyone in China today can offer an argument as simple as mine.

When the dust settles, a question that naturally follows is this: how many of these bystanders cheer-leading China's democracy really wished China well?

  • 9
    This answer seems to be rather opinion-based at first sight, are there any sources that suggest this line of thought?
    – Pranab
    Jun 11, 2017 at 1:11

Technically, China is abandoning one country, two system which is promised by China and British. China is insisted One Country over Two system. It is proposing China interest first, Hong Kong second. It uses Hong Kong Financial system to launder their money which is usually their income from grey economy

  • 1
    You should also include some references to support your statements (see Panda's answer).
    – Alexei
    Aug 8, 2017 at 5:14
  • 1
    these days citing references for "China is abandoning one country, two system" is going to be a lot easier.
    – uhoh
    Aug 29, 2021 at 0:26

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