|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 will life be like in Hong Kong in the year 2000? 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 ? 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.
Jim Dwyer of Monrovia, California, asks:
Has China made any specific commitment to holding free elections to parliament after the transition? And if China deprives the citizens of Hong Kong of governance by a duly elected body, does the United Nations have basis for intervention?
Dr. DeGolyer reponds:
Yes. The Basic Law stipulates that "The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures." It also stipulates that "The ultimate aim is the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage." An overwhelming proportion of people surveyed by the Hong Kong Transition Project believe that the definition of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" the slogan employed so many years by China in the transition means ultimately such elections (nearly one in five strongly agree with this and 57% agree; almost no one strongly disagrees with this as the meaning of this term).
However, there is no time frame spelled out as to when this ultimate aim will be met. Nor is it clear what the nomination procedure for the Chief Election means--will a handpicked group nominate one person who is then "ratified" by "election"? Nor is it clear what the rules for elections in the Legislative Council will be. Will they be first past the post, or from an election list, or proportional representation, or from multiseat constituencies? These are currently unknowns and the possibilities of interpretation here are nearly limitless. We should find out more about this over the next year or so as a promise has been made to hold elections within one year of the handover. Currently, the broadly elected Legislative Council (nearly a million voters) will be replaced by a much more narrowly elected Provisional Legislative Council (400 voters) on 1 July.
The United Nations has no basis for intervention other than the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which has been agreed to extend to Hong Kong under the Basic Law. However, the human rights provisions were not made supreme in the Basic Law, and contradictions between these rights and other provisions of the Law may be settled to the disfavor of human rights. In practical terms, China's growing power and wealth as well as its permanent veto position on the Security Council give it potent powers to deflect U.N. action.
The civilizing power of growing education, wealth, and contact with the rest of the world are the best protections for Hong Kong, not the U.N., and here, Hong Kong's role as a "bridge" between East and West becomes crucial. The construction of one of the world's finest suspension bridges to the new airport due to open in 1998 thus becomes a truly fitting symbol of Hong Kong's promise and role for China, and it also symbolizes well the differences in character between Hong Kong and China, for China is symbolized by the Great Wall. The Fortress mentality and symbol meets the Bridge mentality and symbol head to head on 1 July 1997. It's in the interest of a bridge owner to increase traffic flow as much as possible, for it's on the tolls for passage that the bridge owner makes a profit. A fortress denizen, however, regards passage and traffic as a threat; a gate is not an opportunity but a weakness, and must be guarded.
China's traumatic "opening" over the past century and half perfectly illustrates the painfulness that lowering the barriers has caused China's leadership groups. These fundamentally opposite perspectives of bridge and wall are now going to be forced into proximity and intimate exchange and acquaintance. Hong Kong and China will learn to live together for each other's profit and growth, and hence China will also learn to do the same with the rest of the world, or they will not, and one will destroy the other or even each other in conflict. What might be sobering to consider is that WW II, according to the U.S. Encyclopedia of Military History, began in China's disorder and civil war in 1937. The U.S. fought on China's side then. Korea also involved the U.S. in another conflict, this time against China, and again in Vietnam the U.S. found itself sucked into an unsettled and unstable Asia against China. Three times in this century the U.S. and China met in war in Asia, and disturbances in Asia are what pulled the U.S. in. The U.S. stake in Hong Kong's success in helping China to peacefully enter the modern world could not be higher, and the dangers that failure in Hong Kong would have for the U.S. and the world hardly higher.
Chaos theory holds that even a small change in inputs can have a dramatic and unexpected effect on outputs--the so-called butterfly effect. Hong Kong is a small place as area and population goes, but it couldn't be bigger in terms of its significance and possible effects on China. In Chinese, the character for crisis combines the radicals for danger and opportunity. Some in China regard Hong Kong as an opportunity--for graft and plunder, but others for trade, and even learning and investment. Others in China regard Hong Kong as danger, danger to China's "spiritual civilization" of socialism with Chinese characteristics or danger to their own positions of influence, and in Hong Kong many regard Chinese rule as a danger to their wealth and even health. In crisis there is danger and opportunity, of many kinds, and 1 July 1997 certainly spells crisis for China and Hong Kong as they are today. The decisions made in Hong Kong or about Hong Kong soon may have vital, or fatal, impact on the future of our world.