CONVERSATION WITH TUNG CHEE HWA
SEPTEMBER 10, 1997
Two months after the British government returned Hong Kong to China, the political future of the quasi-independent state continues to be in doubt. The government says it plans to hold elections for a new parliament within a year, but critics are skeptical. Following a background report, the new chief executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-Hwa, discusses the future with Jim Lehrer.
JIM LEHRER: Now a conversation with Hong Kong's chief executive. We start with some background from Charles Krause.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
July 3, 1997:
Our correspondents in Hong Kong answer your questions about the handover, and the territory's future.
July 25, 1997:
Hong Kong's housing crisis tests the nation's relationship with China.
July 21, 1997:
While China has acquired Hong Kong after a century and a half of waiting, hundreds of Hong Kong's children are trying to stay in the city.
June 30, 1997:
A panel discussion on the meaning of the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China.
June 29, 1997:
Essayist Richard Rodriguez reflects on America's relationship with China.
June 23, 1997:
How the British will retreat from Hong Kong.
June 16, 1997:
Will China's communism bring drastic change, or business as usual?
June 10, 1996:
Just who is Tung Chee-hwa--the man who will take over Hong Kong when it is returned to Chinese control?
December 17, 1996:
Human rights abuses in China.
Online NewsHour's Asia Index.
The man in the middle.
CHARLES KRAUSE: When the Chinese communist flag was raised over Hong Kong in July, it signaled not only the end of British rule but also the beginning of a new Hong Kong government led by Tung Chee Hwa. At 60, Tung is a shipping magnate and reportedly a billionaire whose business and political interests have long extended from East to West.
Born in Shanghai, Tung fled China as a refugee after the Communist Revolution in 1949. Yet when it came time for the Communist Chinese government to choose a chief executive for post-colonial Hong Kong, Tung was their choice. At the handover ceremony, the eyes of Hong Kong's 6.3 million people--along with hundreds of millions of others all around the world--watched and listened to Prince Charles with nostalgia.
PRINCE CHARLES: Ladies and Gentlemen, China will tonight take responsibility for a place and a people which matter greatly to us all.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But the real focus was on Hong Kong's new chief executive, who's called C. H. Tung when his name is said in English. Following Prince Charles, Tung attempted to reassure his audience that Hong Kong's economic and political freedoms would be respected under the "one country-two systems" formula originally put forward by Beijing.
But just blocks away, former members of Hong Kong's legislative council were protesting. Their fear: that China's decision to abolish the old legislature--which was democratically elected--in favor of a new appointed legislature was an ominous sign of things to come. Tung's critics have also accused him of being insensitive to freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and generally of being more concerned about pleasing the Communists in Beijing than protecting the democratic rights of people in Hong Kong.
EMILY LAU: I said from day one that he is Peking's puppet and he will do what he's told. But I think what is also true is that he is also basically a very, very conservative person, very paternalistic, so we can safely assume that all the things proposed by Peking he also supports.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But so far, the worst fears of the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong have not come to pass. Neither the red army--4000 strong and now stationed in military garrisons built by the British--nor Tung's civil administration has interfered to stop newspapers from publishing or demonstrators from expressing their views in the street. Tung has also promised that elections for a new legislature will be held next year. But Tung's critics say that his proposal for electing the new legislature is fundamentally undemocratic because it's based on a system of proportional representation that's heavily weighted against Hong Kong's opposition Democratic Party.
Still, the political controversies have not so far affected Hong Kong's economy. Since the handover, it's remained stable, with low unemployment and continued growth. But the stock Market and Hong Kong's currency have been hurt by the financial crises that have hit other Asian markets.
Tung arrived in the United States on Monday, a country he knows well, having lived during the 1960's in California, where he reportedly became a big fan of the San Francisco 49ers. In Washington this week, he's already met with members of Congress and members of the cabinet. A meeting with President Clinton is scheduled for Friday.
"Hong Kong has now become part of China."
JIM LEHRER: I talked with Tung Chee Hwa earlier today. Mr. Tung, welcome. From your perspective, how is Hong Kong doing two months and ten days after the handover?
TUNG CHEE HWA, Chief Executive, Hong Kong: Well, Jim, I think we are doing just fine. It's been a very satisfying two months and ten days, with the whole world watching us. The three branches of our political structure, the judiciary, the legislative, and the executive branches, all functioning very normally, the economy continues to expand, the way of life, our lifestyle which we are very used to, hasn't changed. And demonstrations, as you can see, continues--and we're having a wonderful beginning, but, of course, we are moving forward. And a good beginning is always a good way to start something. And we are very happy.
JIM LEHRER: Has anything basically changed in Hong Kong in these last two months and ten days?
TUNG CHEE HWA: I think the issue really is this; that Hong Kong has now become part of China. We are moving forward under the one country-two system concept. People in Hong Kong--and 95 percent of us are Chinese--we are proud that now we become part of China, we're at last reunited after 156 years of separation as a result of an unjust war. And we are also very confident of our future because we believe the masters of our own destiny. We can do better things and greater things as we move forward into the 21st century.
Is "one country, two systems" working?
JIM LEHRER: Are you really in charge of Hong Kong in the government? What is your relationship? What has it been thus far between you and Beijing?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Well, as you know, we are moving ahead on the basis of one country-two systems, which means that we will have our own systems in Hong Kong, which is different from that on mainland of China. And under that concept, except for issues like foreign affairs and defense, all internal matters of Hong Kong is my responsibility and the responsibility of my administration. And this is the way we're going about it.
JIM LEHRER: Thus far have you had any interference from the government in China?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Not at all. Jim, you have to remember, China very much want one country-two systems to succeed because it is in China's long-term interest for this to succeed.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see one country-two systems as a permanent arrangement, or is this temporary? Will it eventually move into one country-one system, is that the intention?
TUNG CHEE HWA: No. This is a permanent arrangement a for long, long period of time to come. It says it's for 50 years. I have--I believe it will go on for longer than that. It is not the arrangement of expediency. It is a long-term vision of some of the leaders in China that on the one hand it is important for the country to be reunited and so Hong Kong becomes part of China, but, on the other hand, the second system must continue because a successful Hong Kong can contribute to China's modernization and also a successful Hong Kong can set a good example for Taiwan, for whatever ultimate solution there will be for Taiwan, because the country has to be eventually united.
"We have proved that the transition has worked well..."
JIM LEHRER: How do you account for the skepticism about what you just said, that most people--not most people--many people believe that this is temporary and that eventually this--Hong Kong is just going to become another part of China, and it's going to be one system, et cetera? What do you say to people about that?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Well, I think for many skeptics the best way to convince them is the facts, as you would say, the proof is in the pudding. And many were very skeptical about the transition. Well, we have proved that the transition has worked well and to many of my skeptics I suggest that they should come back to see us from time to time, a year, two years, three years later. And you continue to find Hong Kong thriving ahead under two systems.
Universal suffarage: the gradual approach.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you do have your critics, as we saw in this setup piece, also here in the United States, Secretary of State Albright, members of Congress, about this legislature thing, the new legislature before--over 2 million people participated in the election--under the new plan only 180,000 people will actually be eligible to vote. Why have you done it that way?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Well, this is not exactly correct, if you excuse me for saying so, let me put it this way first--that we will have an election next year, May of next year, the election will be open, the election will be fair, and all political parties and people of all persuasions will be asked to join the election. And I think they will, and there are two and a half million registered voters in Hong Kong. And I believe--and I very much hope--most of them will participate. And we certainly as a government will try very hard to persuade the registered voters to vote.
JIM LEHRER: Can they all? Are they all permitted to vote?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Oh, absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: To go in, one man, one vote?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: I thought it was under a proportional system.
TUNG CHEE HWA: Well, what it is, is that there are 60 seats in the legislature, 20 are directly elected through universal suffrage, and the other 30 seats are through a functional constituency arrangement, which is indirect election, and then 10 are through the election committee, which is also indirect election--so the issue is that all the 2 ½ million voters, registered voters, will have the opportunity to vote and we're appealing to all of them to vote, but where there is some controversy is in the functional constituencies. And these were invented by the then Hong Kong government under the colonial rule as a halfway step, moving slowly towards democracy, and the important thing I think, Jim, for us to remember is that we have a constitution--we have what we call a basic law, which is our constitution, which, among other things, maps out for the next 10 years the evolution of our political institution--how the legislature will be elected every few years until the about 10th year and how the chief executive would be elected every time. My term is for five years, and in 2002 there will be another election for another chief executive. And then will come 2007. And it's all mapped out in our constitutional document, and the document also says very clearly that at the end of that time we are going to move into universal suffrage if it is at that time the wish of the Hong Kong people. So the ultimate aim is universal suffrage. It is all very clear. But what we are doing is a very gradual approach, a step by step approach towards ultimately universal suffrage.
JIM LEHRER: If you wanted to change that, could you? If you wanted to speed it up, in other words, if you wanted to make it--if you wanted to get there in five years or four years or seven years, could you do it unilaterally?
TUNG CHEE HWA: Well, you know, basic law is part of our constitution. And it was debated and agreed to between Mainland Chinese and also Hong Kong people after four years of discussion. And I guess it's like your Constitution. Can you change that? You probably can, but it's a very complicated process.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
TUNG CHEE HWA: But I think we just got it about right, a 10-year process going forward, and looking at ultimately universal suffrage. And the reason why is this, Jim: Please don't forget. For 156 years we have been under colonial rule, and a British governor was sent to Hong Kong without ever consulting us. And most of us--almost all of us--don't even know what his name is. And the first election for the legislature was only six years ago. And in not too many years from now we will have more democracy than we ever had before. And the important thing, Jim, is this, that we care about democracy in Hong Kong. We want Hong Kong's democratic institution to develop. And over a 10-year period it's all met now very clearly ,and we get there.
JIM LEHRER: And you're comfortable with that, 10 years?
TUNG CHEE HWA: I'm comfortable with it. I'm confident in it, and the other thing, Jim, is very important, is this, that in the process of designing all these things, in the process of designing finally the details of a structure for the election next year, we have consulted the Hong Kong people. And I believe I have the support of the community of Hong Kong people.
Dealing with international questions...
JIM LEHRER: Does it bother you to have people like me and other Americans and other people who are not from Hong Kong question this particular point?
TUNG CHEE HWA: No, not at all, because obviously America is the land of the free and home of the democratic values and you are concerned. And I can understand that, but from my point of view, I would do my best to explain, Jim, to you and my other friends in America what we are doing in Hong Kong. But what is important for--I hope you understand, Jim--is this--that I have to do what is good for Hong Kong. And I have to listen to the views of people in Hong Kong because what I have to do is in ultimate interest of Hong Kong people. We all live there. We have to take the consequence of whatever decision we make, good or bad. And I hope we are making good decisions.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Tung, thank you very much.
TUNG CHEE HWA: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: We'll get another view of the Hong Kong situation tomorrow night from dissident Emily Lau.