ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS
MAY 7, 1996
A century and a half of British rule has had a profound effect on Hong Kong's culture and economy. On July 1, 1997 Hong Kong is scheduled to reunite with mainland China. Elizabeth Farnsworth looks at the potential bumps in the road from British to Chinese control.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Hong Kong is the last great jewel in England's imperial crown, a reminder of the days when the sun never set on the British empire. But on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong will be returned to China after 150 years as a British colony. That arrangement was sealed in 1984, when Britain and China signed an agreement which stipulated that Hong Kong would retain its capitalism, its rights, and its freedoms. China's promise was one country, two systems.
British influence and way of life have pervaded Hong Kong since it became a colony in 1842. The most fashionable neighborhood was called Victoria's Peak and streets were named Percible, Landale, Keswick. The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club was organized in 1844. The Chinese quickly joined in the excitement of betting on race horses, but they couldn't belong to the club until 1926. Since World War II, and especially in the last two decades, Hong Kong has changed dramatically as it evolved into an economic power house. It has the world's eighth largest trading economy with, until a recent slump, a 6 percent annual growth rate and an unemployment rate that until recently hovered at around 1 1/2 percent. Its Gross Domestic Product is one fifth that of all China.
When Christopher Patten, a prominent British politician, became the last British governor of Hong Kong in 1992, he turned what could have been just a ceremonial post into a bully pulpit. From the beginning, Patten has pushed Hong Kong towards more democratic government, and he was repeatedly vilified by Beijing as a result. Shortly after taking office, he introduced a reform bill which gave the people of Hong Kong voting rights for the first time in a hundred and fifty years.
Last September, voters chose Hong Kong's first fully elected legislative council. Pro democracy candidates won overwhelmingly, defeating the pro China party. Martin Lee is chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party.
MARTIN LEE, Chairman, Hong Kong Democratic Party: (September 1995) The people of Hong Kong are telling the whole world that they don't want a spineless government. They want legislators who will stand up for Hong Kong.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Then in March, China's hand-picked preparatory committee, an advisory group on the transition from British to Chinese rule, announced that the newly-elected council would be dismantled in 1997. It would be replaced with a provisional legislature appointed by the pro-Chinese preparatory committee itself. Governor Patten, among others, sharply criticized that decision.
CHRISTOPHER PATTEN, Governor, Hong Kong: A legislature which people have just elected in such record numbers, to start talking about dismantling them frankly isn't a very good way of winning hearts and minds in Hong Kong, and I should have thought one very clear message yesterday was that people have to be concerned about hearts and minds in Hong Kong.
MS. FARNSWORTH: A few days later, a Chinese official turned up the heat. He said that civil servants in the future would have to pledge their allegiance to the appointed legislature or lose their jobs. Though he later softened his stance, the damage was done. People in Hong Kong have reacted to the Chinese government's actions with anger and fear. A week after the announcement that the Legislative Council would be removed, tens of thousands of people lined up to apply for a British overseas passport which allows residents of former British territories to travel without a visa to Britain and 18 other countries. A January opinion poll found that 43 percent of Hong Kong's citizens aged 15 to 24 would rather emigrate than stay past 1997, and more than half of all residents oppose reunification with China.
Faced with mounting criticism, the Beijing-appointed preparatory committee held what it billed as an airing of public views on Hong Kong's future government. Critics complained that no pro-democracy politicians were invited to speak and the press was kept out. More than a thousand demonstrators took to the streets with signs calling China a rapist of democracy.
WOMAN ON STREET: They have to deal with people with different ideas. If they're not prepared to argue with people on contentious points like the setting up of provisional legislature, they must ask themselves why they avoid these questions.
MS. FARNSWORTH: In the midst of these tensions, Britain and the United States continue to deal with China as a dynamic new economic power, and Hong Kong, a crucial economic and trade link to China, has a direct stake in the current American debate over renewing Most Favored Nation status to the mainland. The United States is Hong Kong's largest overseas partner. Trade between the two now totals some $24 billion. If China is denied Most Favored Nation status, or MFN, Hong Kong, soon to part of China, would be hurt. Without MFN, imports would be subject to punitive tariffs that could price them out of the U.S. market.
Two issues are on the top of Governor Patten's agenda as he visits the United States this week. One will be to convince Congress not to deny or put conditions on China's MFN status. Today Patten met with Sen. Tom Daschle and tomorrow he'll talk to Majority Leader Bob Dole. The governor met with Vice President Gore at the White House this morning to discuss the MFN issue, as well as the future of Hong Kong once the British lion retreats.