This week, as Hong Kong enters a sixth month of ongoing protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam was summoned to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping to receive further "guidance" on how to handle the crisis. "One Country, One System" can only be avoided if communist China allows Hong Kong to change course.
Hong Kong is a developed city - culturally, a city-state - with an underdeveloped political system. Beijing, in collusion with Hong Kong's business elite and the local political class - is holding Hong Kong back. Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong doesn't owe the mainland government a debt of gratitude for hauling it out of poverty. Today, however, China may be a vital driver of the territory's economy - but for Hong Kongers the Chinese Communist Party is a threat, not a saviour.
That China's playbook is so out of date and their tactics so crude is emblematic of how Hong Kongers have long viewed China - as outmoded and unsophisticated. The CCP's leadership are remote, overlord-type figures, for Hong Kongers to fear - or, as it happens, to stand up to.
When the UK handed over the territory to China, it failed to bequeath Hong Kong the tools or skills to govern. Hong Kong was left in a state of limbo, as the "Basic Law" - the mini constitution that underpins the "One Country, Two Systems" concept - became open to abuse and wildly differing interpretations.
Hong Kong's decline in competent governance, together with the erosion of civil liberties since President Xi Jinping took power in China seven years ago, simply hit a tipping point in the public's eye when Carrie Lam's Hong Kong government attempted to introduce a law concerning the extradition of suspected criminals to China.
Every day, Hong Kongers are reminded of the inadequacies of Hong Kong governance - from overburdened schools and hospitals to avoidable poverty and wealth inequality, illegal structures, pollution, unaffordable housing costs and a lack of pensions and social security. There was one government institution of which Hong Kongers had been proud, and it was routinely referred to as "Asia's finest": the Hong Kong Police Force.
Now, however, it is part of the problem, having been deployed by the Hong Kong government, ultimately on behalf of communist China, to solve a complex political problem through clumsy public order policing, all without the necessary training or experience. The Hong Kong government must take responsibility, as it is the actions of its police force that are increasingly radicalising its own citizens; it is striking that this is a traditional driver of revolution.
Through a unique combination of political, social and cultural factors, Hong Kong has prospered economically while being lumbered with an increasingly dysfunctional political class. Unrepresentative and lacking legitimacy, they govern over a population with which they have little in common. Hong Kong needs a functioning government that serves the populace, which in most advanced cities is delivered through democratic institutions.
The current political elite cannot govern Hong Kong to a level that the masses - long promised democracy - will now accept. That the political class cannot be removed through the ballot box perpetuates the system indefinitely.
There needs to be a realignment of government away from collusion with Hong Kong's pro-Beijing business elite and towards the man on the street. Hong Kong's parliamentary assembly, known as Legco (Legislative Council), should contain people more representative of the populace. The government needs to move away from recycling the same pool of pro-Beijing elitists compromised by a whole host of outside interests, none of which involve public service.
The difficulty for mainland China is to find a way of governing Hong Kong in a manner which benefits its citizens, while maintaining "One Country, Two Systems". However, there is little to suggest that the communist party is concerned about the lack of political legitimacy of the Hong Kong government (or of the Beijing government, for that matter). Xi Jinping's government will have to go against its own totalitarian nature if it wants Hong Kong to flourish. That particular act of political contortion may be hard to envisage, but try we must. The likely alternatives are unending protests.
The protests are essentially leaderless and are backed by a wide spectrum of support that now extends far beyond the student community. As such, there is also a wide spectrum of opinion as to what concessions would be sufficient to end the disruption. However, the authorities have already conceded on the first major demand - retracting the extradition bill - and are considering compromising elsewhere too.
The prospects of an independent inquiry into police tactics are growing, and calls for an amnesty for those arrested for rioting are now being discussed in government circles. After proceeding through the normal judicial process, many of those arrested could be considered for pardoning - not a blanket amnesty for all criminal acts, but on a case-by-case basis. This could most readily apply to those arrested for lesser crimes, such as illegal assembly, obstructing police or wearing a mask, rather than for individuals guilty of assault or vandalism. The Chief Executive's Office has admitted that the legal structure already exists - Carrie Lam has the power to pardon criminal offenders.
The above measures may be enough to bring peace to the streets, but that would only be sustainable if meaningful long-term reform is made to the political system. A constitutional way forward will fall short of unrealistic aims of Western-style democracy, but greater democracy can be injected into the "One Country, Two Systems" model. The populace may have to accept one restriction on electoral candidates: a requirement not to demand independence from China, a move which would be impractical in any event. Beyond that one caveat, one-person-one-vote elections should be implemented and Western-style freedoms of speech and association should be protected. That might sound like a tall order, but "One Country, Two Systems" can only exist if there are two systems.
In recent years "One Country, Two Systems" has been adulterating down towards merely "One Country". In the future, history may tell us that now is the time that Hong Kong became "just another Chinese City". And that is what Hong Kongers fear.
- Iain Lafferty is a Hong Kong-based teacher and activist.
- Paul Letters is a journalist and novelist who lived in Hong Kong for 18 years, where he was a presenter for state broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong on their weekday morning current affairs show. His most recent novel is The Slightest Chance. paulletters.com