CLOSING THE DOOR
JANUARY 28, 1997
At midnight 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 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 this background report from ITN, Charlayne Hunter-Gault leads a discussion with a panel of Hong Kong watchers.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: British rule of Hong Kong officially ends at midnight on June 30th this year, but the transition has been underway for sometime. It has been marked by disputes over the details of the hand-over and questions about whether China will respect human rights and civil liberties in Hong Kong. We have two views on that, but first two background reports from Mark Austin, followed by Ian Williams, both of Independent Television News.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Online NewsHour links
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.
MARK AUSTIN: In Hong Kong the colonial march is nearly over. Almost every week now brings another ceremony marking Britain's gradual retreat from what's been a bastion of the empire. A century and a half of imperial rule has seen this once barren island off the southern tip of China transform into what is now the gleaming symbol of economic success, but never before, has a free capitalist society been handed over to a Communist one, and the six million people for whom Hong Kong is their only home are nervous about the future. This is the agreement between Britain and China which in theory guarantees the way of life in Hong Kong for at least 50 years. The basic law, as it's called, should protect the rights and freedom of these people here. But with just six months to the hand-over, the question being asked, is can China be trusted? In Hong Kong political protest is currently allowed, but the Communist authorities have already indicated that they will not tolerate anti-China demonstrations. There are fears Beijing will impose repressive laws similar to those on the Mainland.
EMILY LAU, Democratic Activist: I'm aware that we are going into very dangerous and difficult times, and in a few months time political activists, including myself, could face, you know, arrest and imprisonment.
MARK AUSTIN: And Hong Kong's courts would be able to do little about it. The Judiciary will strive to maintain its independence, but human rights lawyers say these judges are unlikely to be able to challenge the will of the Communist Party.
MARTIN LEE, Attorney: Because if the law prohibits you and I having this conversation, which is highly critical of the Chinese government's handling of Hong Kong, when we have this conversation we'll be convicted of the offense because a judge has to abide [by] that law.
MARK AUSTIN: Another question is how long the presses will be allowed to roll at newspapers critical of Beijing. In the waters off Hong Kong the Royal Navy are on a routine search for illegal immigrants. Thousands of impoverished Chinese try to cross from the Mainland every month, if not by sea then across the land border. The police catch dozens every week, but the fear is of a stampede after the hand-over even though the fences will remain. This fear is shared by the Chinese authorities who recently staged this exercise shown on television. Their security forces are battling to hold back thousands of people trying to surge into Hong Kong. Tung Chee-Hwa, the man chosen by China to lead Hong Kong through all its fears, says he believes Beijing will do nothing to affect the way of life or the prosperity here. But for most it's more a hope than a belief.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: A Hong Kong newspaper named Tung Chee-Hwa Leader of The Year, though his critics have accused him of showing precious little leadership so far. The man who'll take over from Chris Patten when the colony reverts to Chinese rule made his most forthright remarks so far, fully backing Beijing's plans to scrap laws governing the right to demonstrate.
TUNG CHEE-HWA, 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, cost 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.
IAN WILLIAMS: Obligations over rights is one of his frequent themes. He also tried to reassure Hong Kong that he is committed to protecting freedom here, but he rejected any outside interference.
TUNG CHEE-HWA: We shall not be detracted by people in Hong Kong or overseas who tell us what we need to be doing. We've got to find our own way forward, and we are going to find our own way forward. I assure you of that. But it may not be the way you like, but, nevertheless, we'll find our own way forward.
IAN WILLIAMS: That puts him completely at odds with the man he'll replace. Governor Chris Patten arrived for a sitting of the colony's legislative council, where he was scathing about Beijing's plans to do away with the laws introduced by him in order to extend civil liberties.
CHRIS 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."
IAN WILLIAMS: China plans to replace Patten's reforms with earlier and more repressive colonial laws. These laws were introduced to combat unrest in Hong Kong when the turmoil of China's civil war and then the cultural revolution spilled over into Hong Kong. The laws tightly controlling demonstrations and the activities of political groups fell into disuse and were liberalized by Governor Patten. Though Patten tried to get Chinese approval for this and other of his democratic reforms, Beijing rejected them as breaching agreements on Hong Kong. He went ahead anyway, and China pledged to undo all his work.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: At his news conference this afternoon President Clinton was asked if he's concerned about the way China is handling the Hong Kong takeover.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think maybe some would assume that you could impose political uniformity on Hong Kong and leave its economic vibrancy intact. It really is in some ways almost the perfect open market, you know. And I don't know if that's true or not. I think anyone who's ever been to Hong Kong more than once, and I've been there on several occasions in my life, probably leaves with the feeling I have, that you could go there a thousand times, and you might not ever understand it all. It's a complicated society. And I'm not so sure that it can exist with all of its potential to help China modernize its own economy and open opportunities for its own people if the civil liberties of the people are crushed.