CLOSING THE DOOR
JANUARY 28, 1997
At midnight on June 30, 1997, the United Kingdom's Union Jack will be lowered and the flag of the People's Republic of China will be rised over Hong Kong, marking the end of a century and a half of British rule. During the last few years, Hong Kong's last emperial governor, Chris Patten, has introduced democratic reforms, but China's new communist rulers are threatening to dismantle any visages of democracy. After a background report from ITN, Charlayne Hunter-Gault leads a discussion with a panel of Hong Kong watchers.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now, our two views. Michel Oksenberg is a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. Andrew Au, a native of Hong Kong, is with the Alliance of Hong Kong Chinese in the United States, a non-profit organization which advocates for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Online NewsHour links
January 28, 1997:
An ITN background report from Hong Kong on the rising tensions as the British colony prepares for Chinese rule.
January 10, 1997:
An Online Forum on what Hong Kong will look like after July, 1997.
December 17, 1996:
As the Chinese defense minister tours the U.S., the NewsHour looks at human rights abuses in China.
November 21, 1996:
A NewsHour report on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asia's economy, the fastest growing, most dynamic region in the world. .
The NewsHour's Asia Index.
The Sino British Joint Declaration outlining the agreement between Great Britain and China.
Starting with you, Mr. Au, how do you think China's handling the transition?
ANDREW AU, Alliance of Hong Kong Chinese in the U.S.: I think they have not done the job too smoothly, and I think it's quite clumsy at times.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Quite what?
ANDREW AU: Clumsy.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Clumsy?
ANDREW AU: Yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why? What bothers you the most about it?
ANDREW AU: What bothers me is the fact that they have reneged on the promise they made earlier in the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration and the basic law they passed in 1991, that they will give the people of Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and also the chance for the Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How did they renege?
ANDREW AU: I think, first of all, a high degree of autonomy means that they will respect the will and the wish and aspirations of the people in Hong Kong. The fact that they are going to disband the elected, the directly elected, legislature in Hong Kong after turnover, I think is a violation in letter and dispute of the ideal or the promise they made.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: They're replacing the elected legislature with an appointed body, right?
ANDREW AU: Yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: A body appointed by China?
ANDREW AU: In a way it is. It's so-called elected but it is elected by a group, a committee, of 400 members handpicked by the Beijing government.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Oksenberg, how do you see the view? What is your view of this transition?
MICHEL OKSENBERG, Stanford University: I think that President Clinton was absolutely correct in this news conference today. This is a very difficult transition. There are going to be some bumps along the way. There are reasons for concern, but, on balance, at this point I'm cautiously optimistic that the vision for a Hong Kong that has a great deal of autonomy is going to be realized.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You heard Mr. Au's concerns about China reneging on its promise. What's your view of that?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: I'm not so certain that the evidence is clear. Governor Patten, after his arrival in 1992, stretched what was an ambiguous agreement between Britain and China. Both sides have probably stretched the interpretation of those ambiguities. The key point now is that a new government is being changed by C.H. Tung, and there are some good signs, and there are some bad signs.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Just explain for me briefly what you mean by "Patten stretched."
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Well, there was an agreement for a continuation in the legislative council Hong Kong, but there was no agreement that that legislative council would be totally democratized. In fact, the British had committed themselves through private agreements with the Chinese to reach an agreement with Beijing on any changes that were made. And Governor Patten did act out of good faith for the purpose of democracy, but he did act unilaterally, and that destroyed a certain amount of trust between Beijing and the government in Hong Kong.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So your view of it is that this is not a worrisome sign?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: I didn't say that, but I say that a new government is now being shaped in Hong Kong under the leadership of C.H. Tung. He has at least my confidence, and he has the confidence of many others. He faces a tremendous number of very difficult challenges. But I think it's far too early to say that he's not going to meet his mandate to protect the autonomy of Hong Kong, protect its essential freedoms, protect its prosperity.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think of Mr. C.H. Tung's leadership, Mr. Au?
ANDREW AU: So far, from what I understand, from what I heard, what he express his view, he is a mouthpiece for the Beijing government.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: A mouthpiece?
ANDREW AU: Yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What makes you say that?
ANDREW AU: For example, he was asked about his opinion on the repealing of some of the articles in the bill of rights and some of the draconian colonial laws, for reenact some of them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Some of those that we just heard about in the taped piece; that they have to approve one week in advance any meetings of 20 or more people and other requirements like that.
ANDREW AU: And basically he--he has been--he is towing the party line.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Oksenberg, what do you say to that?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: I think it's far too early to come to that conclusion. Let's look at the road ahead and what seems to me to be the major issues that loom ahead. The first is to assure that the civil service of Hong Kong remains a meritocracy, and C.H. Tung has appointed a very capable person to head that civil service, Ansen Chan, who enjoys very wide respect in Hong Kong. Second, he must secure his own stature and make sure that C.H. Tung remains--is "the" most important person in the political system of Hong Kong, not subordinate to a number of People's Republic of China representatives who are going to be there. He has to make sure that he has direct access to the leaders of China. He has to make sure, as your lead story indicated, that the Judiciary retain its independence. He has to make sure that there is access to information and dissemination of it, so essential to functioning of a capitalist system. He has to make sure that the Chinese army forces that are introduced into Hong Kong after July 1 will remain disciplined and honest and not bring corruption with them.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you heard him say--
MICHEL OKSENBERG: And those are the big tasks.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You heard him say that political stability comes before political freedom, or something to that effect. What does that mean to you?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: I think what he said is that they need both political freedom and political stability, and he is in the process of establishing the right balance. Let's remember what Hong Kong is and has been for a long time. I don't--I have my own concerns, anxieties about Hong Kong's future, but the fact is that the civil rights law that is about to be unveiled is essentially one that existed in Hong Kong before 1992. Nothing is being added to erode civil liberties. The question is really, will the Chinese government respect the underlying autonomy of Hong Kong and in that regard, I have to admit that I have my own apprehensions.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Au, where do you see the one China, two systems at this point?
ANDREW AU: First, I mean, ten years ago people maybe optimistic, but at this point I think we are not optimistic about that because we have seen the Chinese way already permeating in Hong Kong. Already, they're coming in; they're taking over, even as the life--now culturally, and even politically. And even the Judiciary system which is supposed to be independent, I think, is in question. So I hope the statement of the ideal, one country, two systems, works, I hope, but I'm not optimistic about that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Oksenberg.
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Well, I'm a little more optimistic. I also think that the stock market in Hong Kong, the continued prosperity, the rise in the market indicates the considerable confidence in Hong Kong's future, but I agree that there are elements of doubt. It is true that Hong Kong is going to change. It will no longer be a British colony. It will be under Chinese rule. And there are elements of doubt. But, you know, if we express those doubts too strongly, we can create the reality, and I think at this point it is important to give C.H. Tung and the new government he's putting together every opportunity to demonstrate that they can carve out genuine autonomy for their special administrative region.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Au, what about that and the fact that the stock exchange and all of those indicators are looking fairly optimistic, does that give you any more confidence in the future?
ANDREW AU: No, because--I mean, the economic prosperity is predicated on freedom and free exchange of information and ideas. So the problem is as of now is the bubble because lots of investment also is coming in from China into Hong Kong, so they drive up the property values and the stock market; however, any dissipation of this confidence will eventually hurt Hong Kong, so it might be good for a few more months or maybe another year. However, reality will strike, I think. At that point I do not know.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Oksenberg, you heard the president's remarks today. Briefly, is there anything the U.S. can or should do at this point?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Well, I think the president's remarks were right on target, watchful, waiting, careful attention to the issue, but no interference at this point.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Okay. Let me just get a brief reaction from Mr. Au, the United States.
ANDREW AU: I think the United States can do a lot for Hong Kong in a sense that if the United States Government can be sure that the Chinese Government will honor the promises in the joint declaration in the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, I think in that sense the United States can help a smooth transition for Hong Kong.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, we'll have to leave it there for now. Thank you both for joining us.