|HONG KONG: RETURNING TO THE FOLD|
January 10, 1997
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in this forum:
What will happen to religious freedom in Hong Kong after the transfer ? Are the restrictions on China enforceable? What's the prognosis for the future of the independent media in Hong Kong? How will the recording of economic data change? Will China phase out the HK dollar and replace it with the Yuan? What will be China's attitude towards the Eurocurrency market ? Has China made any specific commitment to hold free elections to parliament after the transition? What will the U.N. do if it refuses? Viewer comments
Online NewsHour Links
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 Asia Index.
Albert Morin of La Grande, Oregon, asks:
How do you perceive life in Hong Kong by the year 2000?
And what is the situation on residents exiting or trying to exit the country?
I was in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks in January 1989. I was surprised to find just how busy, overpopulated and industrious everything appeared. The large shipping lanes, large buildings, the city itself was all a shocking sight for this small town country boy.
Dr. DeGolyer reponds:
My personal perceptions matter little. According to promises from China there is supposed to be no changes for 50 years after 1997. What matters is what do many Hong Kong people themselves think will happen after the handover in July 1997? Over the past three years of regular surveys by the HK Transition Project, on average 85% of people express satisfaction with their current lives in Hong Kong. Varying from a low of about 45% to a more typical 60% of people express satisfaction with the government. However, only 20% to 30% express satisfaction with the PRC government, and it has fallen as low as 15% at times.
In future, many people doubt the willingness of the incoming government to be as willing to listen as the present government.
People are also worried about the future a good deal, depending on which aspect of it you ask about, and that worry has been growing, not diminishing, as the handover nears. People are also increasingly worried about the efficiency of the government after the handover and about corruption, and concern over corruption has been rising dramatically, with nearly a third in the tracking survey in December 1996 saying they are now very worried about it, and nearly the same proportion saying of all the various areas of worry we ask about that this concern is their top one.
Corruption is becoming a focus of concern, and this is the greatest danger Hong Kong faces. So many people expect, or fear, that by 2000 or later Hong Kong will become much more of a corrupt place, with a less responsive and less open government.
A further item to note on this question, in December 1984 on the signature of the Sino-British Declaration, three tenths of one percent (.3%) of Hong Kong adults 18 and above had a foreign passport. Today, somewhere around 10% have one, and this is dominantly focused among the most educated professionals and business people in the community. They are mostly Canadian (36%), U.S. (26%), Australian (12%), and then UK (9%) and the rest from everywhere else in the world. Also, an average of around 45% indicate that if Hong Kong changes in ways they find unacceptable, they would leave, and among those aged 40 or less, this portion is a clear majority, up to some two thirds of the 18-19 year olds. People here obviously have prepared for the worst, even while many, if not most, hope for the best. Remember, many of these people or their parents have already fled the Beijing government's rule at least once before. Indeed, most are unwilling to join China even yet.
When asked if they could control history and determine its outcome, one in five Hong Kong residents still prefers the foreign rule of Britain only months before handover to, at least promised, self-rule is simply astonishing, and certainly disturbing for those hoping for a stable Hong Kong in the year 2000.
In response to the question about residents trying to leave the country:
Surprisingly, this is tough to answer. In the Basic Law, right of travel is protected. Currently, there is a melange of passports, British National (Overseas), British Dependent Territory, Certificate of Identity, and anyone of Chinese ethnic features with a Hong Kong identity card with three stars on it can enter or exit Hong Kong with that card. (I tried it in November, and even with my permanent residence status identity card, my non- Chinese features led the Customs officer to ask for my passport. And when I pointed out the nature of the i.d. card, he just said it makes no difference I still needed to show my foreign passport since I didn't have the three stars indicating Chinese ethnicity.)
What is unclear is just who is going to be deemed a resident with right of abode in Hong Kong on midnight plus one second 1 July 1997. For example, currently, a person here for seven years can apply for permanent residency, and it is routinely granted. They can vote, even run for office without restrictions despite having a foreign passport and they don't have to be Chinese ethnically. In future, while foreign passport holders can still run for office, they may hold only a fixed portion of seats, and the highest members of the civil service may not have foreign passports at all. One SAR preparatory committee has recommended that people currently having right of abode and who are of Chinese ethnic origin might be allowed to come in and declare themselves a foreign passport holder or not.
What is unclear even now is whether those who do declare a foreign passport will also then need a work visa and have other restrictions on their stays in Hong Kong. Supposedly, if a foreign passport holder doesn't declare it, they won't have right of access to the consulate of their foreign citizenship. The British have made it clear that they will not abide by such rules as long as the person has not admitted to dual nationality (an international law prohibits a dual national to pit one of his states if citizenship against the other state which considers him a citizen).
This is no small issue, as some 10% of Hong Kong people have foreign passports, and half of the people in Hong Kong consistently say they have relatives with foreign right of abode living overseas. I have had many people calling me asking whether their children at school in Australia and New Zealand will have to come home in mid-semester (July is middle of their school year in the antipodes) in order to qualify for right of abode in Hong Kong, and currently, no one can issue a clear and authoritative answer to the question. Hopefully, this will be one of the first issues addressed by the Provisional Legislative Council, but the legality of its actions while the current Legislative Council holds legal power is an issue which some people in Hong Kong have sworn to take to court.
Complicating the matter further are some historical problems China had in the 1960s with Southeast Asian countries which had large Chinese ethnic populations which it treated badly due to unclear loyalties, and which China solved, or attempted to solve, by denying them any possibility of dual citizenship. Yet in the case of Hong Kong, dual citizenship is seen by many citizens as a means to reassure them of some protection from the arbitary rule so often encountered in China. China can't have one set of rules for Hong Kong people and another for other Chinese ethnics, and if it clearly allows dual citizenship, all the old problems in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, etc. arise again. So this question really just isn't answerable fully at the moment, and will probably always have a certain degree of vagueness surrounding it.