DEMOCRACY IN DANGER
April 10, 1997
Chinese government in waiting recently announced its plans to place new restrictions on public protests and possibly a ban on some political groups altogether once the British leave. Charles Krause talks with Martin Lee, leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party and an outspoken advocate for human political rights in Hong Kong. In the United States and elsewhere Lee has become a symbol of what many expect to be a difficult transition from British to Chinese rule.
JIM LEHRER: Now the future of democracy in Hong Kong and to Charles Krause.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Martin Lee is the leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party and an outspoken advocate for human political rights in Hong Kong now and after the Chinese take control July 1st.
SEN. CONNIE MACK, (R) Florida: The National Endowment for Democracy is Proud to present its democracy award to Martin Li. Martin. (applause)
CHARLES KRAUSE: By coincidence, he was in Washington yesterday receiving an award from the government-funded National Endowment for Democracy. It was at just about the same time as Hong Kong's Chinese government in waiting was announcing its plans to place new restrictions on public protests and possibly a ban on some political groups altogether once the British leave.
MARTIN LEE, Democratic Party, Hong Kong: People receiving an award like this, of course, will say very humbly that he doesn't deserve it and so on and so on. I will tell you I really wanted this thing. I really wanted to be given this award, not for my sake, but for the people of Hong Kong, because I want them to know that they are not fighting for democracy alone in Hong Kong.
CHARLES KRAUSE: In the United States and elsewhere Lee has become a symbol of what many expect to be a difficult transition from British to Chinese rule. A 59-year-old lawyer, he has long insisted that the Chinese honor their pledge to respect Hong Kong's current economic, political, and legal framework. It's a position that's angered the Chinese but that's won Lee respect and votes in Hong Kong. Most recently, in 1995, in what was the British colony's first democratic election, Lee and his Democratic Party scored an overwhelming victory. As a result, the Democrats and their political allies currently hold the majority of the seats on Hong Kong's legislative council. But last December the Chinese announced they would disband the elected council after the takeover, replacing it with a new provisional legislature appointed by Beijing. Since then the new council has formed a kind of parallel government, along with C.H. Tung, the billionaire businessman selected by the Chinese to be Hong Kong's first chief executive after July 1st. Tung and Chris Patten, Hong Kong's current British governor, are friends, but they've had sharp disagreements since Tung was selected to succeed Patten after the British withdrawal. At the heart of their disagreement is Tung's view that the British have gone too far, granting Hong Kong too much freedom during their final days in power.
C. H. TUNG, Chief Executive-Designate, Hong Kong: The key question here for the community to debate is what is more important to the community, social order, inconvenience caused to the public at large, or individual rights? I believe it is important to get the right balance between individual rights and social order for the good of the entire community.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The governor was quick to respond.
CHRISTOPHER PATTEN, Governor, Hong Kong: I would remind some of those who will be responsible for Hong Kong in the future of a very wise remark of the political philosopher Edmund Burke. "People," he wrote, "crushed by law have no hope. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws."
CHARLES KRAUSE: The British effort to ensure civil and political rights in Hong Kong and to democratize the colony is based on an agreement that they signed with Beijing in 1984. Called the Joint Declaration, Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to China, while China promised to respect Hong Kong's basic economic and political freedoms for at least 50 years. The Chinese phrase, "one country, two systems," encapsulated what everyone thought the two countries had agreed to. But the 1989 massacre of democratic reformers in Tiananmen Square, which sent shockwaves around the world, struck Hong Kong with particular force. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, ushering in an era of distrust that soured relations between Britain and China and created political tensions in Hong Kong. As the end draws near, the British say they're just attempting to put necessary institutional guarantees in place before they leave, while the Chinese say that by doing so the British are violating the original joint declaration agreed to before Tiananmen Square in 1984. At stake is the future of Hong Kong, the world's eighth largest economy with its 6.3 million people. What happens to them and to the billions of dollars of U.S. and other foreign investment in Hong Kong will be of great interest throughout the world, especially in the United States. That concern was evident today when Lee met with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, then later testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And joining us now is Martin Lee. Mr. Lee, thank you for coming. Tell me, what was most significant about the new restrictions announced by Mr. Tung and his government yesterday?
MARTIN LEE, Democratic Party, Hong Kong: Well, first of all, what Mr. Tung said about striking a balance between social order and people with liberties is of course correct, but we already have that proper balance. When Hong Kong people protest in the streets, they are extremely peaceful. We do not throw Molotov cocktails, as in South Korea. And even the police acknowledge that; that the recent law works perfectly well for Hong Kong and yet, China, reputes those laws, and it will be up to this Beijing-appointed legislature to pass harsh laws to restrict freedoms.
CHARLES KRAUSE: All right. But yesterday they announced a series of measures which they're proposing to take. What is most significant about them? How will they affect you and your party?
MARTIN LEE: Well, when people now have demonstrations in the streets, even though peacefully, they must have the prior consent of the police. And if the police doesn't give consent, then you cannot have the demonstration unless you face prosecution. And that's as simple as that. In other words, the police can restrict people's right to demonstrate for whatever cause, and they can choose. If you protest in support of the Communist Party, you go ahead and do it. If you protest against them, then you'd better stay home.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Apparently, one of the provisions would allow them to outlaw political groups altogether. Are you at all afraid they are aiming that at you?
MARTIN LEE: Well, they could well be aiming that at groups like ours, not necessarily us, but other groups also included with us. So in other words, they would stifle any meaningful participation of political parties unless you agreed with them on everything.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now there are those optimists, anyway, who think--who say that the Chinese are smart enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Why aren't they willing to leave well enough alone in Hong Kong?
MARTIN LEE: Well, of course, if the Beijing leaders feel confident about their own position, then this goose factor, as well as the Taiwan factor, are important factors. But these factors are not of the primary importance to them. What is of primary importance to them is their ability to stay in power. And if they believe anything, they prejudice that, and they will stop at nothing. Look at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Before the massacre, China was doing extremely well economically, but because the leaders at the time thought that their own position was jeopardized, they brought in the tanks and the soldiers and started to kill people, and ruined China's economy for a few years. So if they find their positions being jeopardized, they would stop at nothing.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And you think that they're worried about what may happen in Hong Kong spreading to China?
MARTIN LEE: Well, they shouldn't feel like that because in Hong Kong nobody is asking for independence. We are supporting and affirming the Sino-British agreement. We just want China to honor promises made to us, as simple as that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Jim just asked Sec. Rubin about Vietnam and about the links between or possible links between free market economies and political freedom. Let me ask you that question about Hong Kong. Do you think that Hong Kong's free economy and prosperity can continue if political freedom is curtailed?
MARTIN LEE: It cannot continue for long. Here you have a goose which dances and sings and is happy and, therefore, lays golden eggs. You put a noose around the neck and you still expect it to lay golden eggs for you?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Why is it, though, then according to--I've been in Hong Kong and many people have written that most of the wealthy people in Hong Kong, the wealthiest businessmen, feel comfortable with what's happening; they are not worried that restrictions of political freedom will affect the economy.
MARTIN LEE: They do say that in public but, of course, virtually all of them have their foreign passports in their back pockets to leave Hong Kong if necessary, and I'll tell you it's a fact that more than 60 percent of our public companies in Hong Kong already moved their legal domicile away from Hong Kong. Of course, they will say--tell you these things, but in their own hearts they know it's different.
CHARLES KRAUSE: You will be--you've already met with a number of congressional leaders, and you'll be meeting next week, I understand, with Secretary Albright and members of the administration. What would you like the United States to do to help you at this time?
MARTIN LEE: I think the U.S. government supported the Sino-British agreement in 1984 because they were asked to do so by Britain and China. And, of course, your government was the first to applaud the joint declaration in 1984. Now, the U.S. government still supports that agreement, which means the U.S. government supports the return of six and a half million people in Hong Kong, together with the land, to China on the 1st of July. That's fine. We also support that. But surely your government owes at least a moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong to insist that Hong Kong remains free. That's all we are asking, and surely, it is up to your government to speak up for Hong Kong.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is there anything else, though, besides words that you think that the United States should be doing?
MARTIN LEE: I think there is in your country the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, which requires the U.S. government, among other things, to support an elected legislature which was promised to us in the 1984 agreement. We already have that elected legislature, but it's about to be shut down by Beijing at the stroke of midnight on the 4th of June and be replaced by an appointed one. What is your government doing? Nothing.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And what should they do, in your view?
MARTIN LEE: They should have protested all along in the last two years after Beijing gave notice of intention to do just that. But then when I was appealing to people, they always said, "Well, this is hypothetical, Mr. Lee." And when it was done, they always said, "Well, Mr. Lee, it's now fait a complit." There is simply no will in the U.S. government and, indeed, in many other governments, to do anything about Hong Kong. They are just looking at China as a trade pie and everybody wants a larger slice of it. And, therefore, the human rights of 6 ½ million people in Hong Kong can and will be sacrificed.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Let me play the devil's advocate and ask you about what you've just said. Why should the United States jeopardize its relationship with China--trade and investment and all the rest of it--if things go bad in Hong Kong?
MARTIN LEE: Because if the U.S. government does nothing when China is breaking an agreement, an international agreement, with another country, like Britain, by giving us an appointed legislature, instead of a promised elected one, then you are actually encouraging the Chinese government to break more future agreements. And who knows? Tomorrow China may break one of these trade agreements with the U.S.A., so it is in the interest--in the inherent interest of every government, to seed to it that international treaties may be honored by all parties concerned, including China.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Finally, as we approach July 1st, what do you think is going to happen? Do you think that things are really going to go wrong, or do you think that somehow or another reason will prevail?
MARTIN LEE: No. Beijing already has Hong Kong in control. I'm afraid the press freedom will be the first freedom to go. And when we lose press freedom, no other freedom is safe.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Well, Mr. Lee, we wish you well. And thank you very much for joining us.