|HONG KONG: HANDLING THE HANDOVER|
July 3, 1997
in this forum:
Should Christians in Hong Kong be concerned for their personal security? Did the sheer numbers of reports alter the atmosphere? What did you see that was beautiful, human and funny? Will Tung Chiwah be independent enough to make critical executive decisions?
Online NewsHour Links
Read our last forum with Professor DeGolyer in Hong Kong.
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, 1997: 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.
November 21, 1996: Asia's dynamic and fast-growing economy. .
The NewsHour Asia Index.
A question from Pat Gamer of Altoona PA:
What are the chances of China throwing out the reporters and blacking out Hong Kong, allowing no information coming in or out? What does the presence of troops feel like?
Professor DeGolyer of the Hong Kong Transition Project responds:
Chinese leaders would like to reunify with Taiwan peacefully. They know, very well, that if they have to use force in Hong Kong there will be no chances of peaceful reunification with Taiwan for at least another 50 years or more. A military invasion of Taiwan would be very likely either extremely costly or even a failure. No regime likes that sort of experience.
Hong Kong's economy rests so much on communication, for example, fully 10% of the GDP is generated by the finance sector, and that rests entirely on second by second data flows. An information blackout, even for a few hours, would critically damage Hong Kong's economy, and with it China's. With the IMF and the World Bank holding their once every three years conference in Hong Kong in September, there is virtually no chance of anything like this happening before then unless extreme violence breaks out, and there is little chance of that.
On the PLA presence, I work right across street from one of their barracks. Yesterday, I looked very carefully at the front gate and inside the compound for any signs of military activities which might look abnormal. There were none, and even the guards seemed a bit more unobtrusive than the British ones.
At the main center, Tamar, the PLA seemed a bit stiffer in their attitude, but they didn't look too much different from the Scottish Highlanders who held the gates last week. I don't think the PLA will be as popular with tourists cameras, though, unless they take to wearing kilts and bearskin hats. The Garrison Laws restrict PLA soldiers to barracks while off duty, and they will be under officers when outside the compounds. They also have had a lot of training on the Basic Law and other legal obligations, so we may see even less problems with the PLA than we had with visiting U.S. and UK military personnel, especially in the bar areas.
Many times, in towns where military personnel are stationed, there are occasional brawls with the locals, but, usually the military or local law enforcers can sort things out without social upheavals taking place. Hong Kong should be no different, and since Hong Kong authorities have dealt with thousands of military taking leave from varous militaries, including the U.S., they know what they are doing. After all, there are more than 26,000 local police in Hong Kong and only just over 4,500 PLA troops. The two forces both carry guns, and the PLA doesn't want to do anything to interefere with the locals doing their job, nor to get engaged in a situation where they can't be sure in which direction the police would fire. Like in Eastern Europe, before the fall of the wall, when the government fell because it didn't want to test the loyalty of police and troops further than they thought it safe to go. Same situation here. I think the PLA is mainly here for national pride, not suppression of the populace, because if so, it is far too few to do so, and far too lightly armed.
Michael Browning of the Miami Herald responds:
Chances very small. We are all leaving of our own accord this weekend -- at least most of us are. The Reuters News Bureau is transferring its Hong Kong Headquarters to Singapore, and is only leaving a skeleton crew behind here. China can afford to wait a couple more weeks until the news cameras switch off and the notebooks are folded shut. After that -- and I am talking long after that, two, three, five, 10 years, civil liberties here will be seriously eroded, I fear. It is simply not in China's interest to allow a hotbed of democracy on its back doorstep, not that Hong Kong is any big hotbed of democracy now.
Hong Kong is one of the most plugged-in places on the planet. It has faxes, the Internet, hundreds of thousands of computers, cell phones by the gazoollion, fiber optic cable, satellite dishes. It would take a lot of doing to isolate this place, and it would not be in China's interest to do it. Hong Kong is a big financial center and it needs electronic information around the clock to function. If you cut the wires, you cut the life-blood of the economy.
I have to confess I have not seen a single PLA soldier in the flesh yet. They came across the border this morning, and were greeted by local people in friendly fashion. Since then they have gone into barracks in Central Hong Kong and at Stanley on the opposite side of Hong Kong Island. The soldiers have been instructed to "Love Hong Kong," in other words to be nice to the locals. I have visited this place since 1983 and never really saw that many British soldiers either. The PLA is keeping a very low profile so far.
Freelance reporter Samy-Leigh Webster-Woog responds:
It's not very likely China will do anything like that, the people running the government are too smart. Information from official sources may become a little bit more difficult to come by-sort of like New York City under Giuliani, but there's not going to be any sort of blackout per se.
As for troops, I haven't seen any. It seems like there are more police around on the streets than when I first got here (Thursday the 26th), but I've never been to Hong Kong before, so I don't have a real clear bench mark to compare things to. The police for the most part are friendly, most don't carry guns, and they seem to be letting people do their own thing, even at demonstrations.
I'd just like to point out that although the assumtion in the West has predominantly been that the return to Chinese rule would be a bad thing, the vast majority of people here seem genuinely pleased to be under Chinese rule. Britain after all, was a colonial power. Most of the democratic reforms came very late in Britan's rule. Even the most steadfast of democracy advocates are largely pro-China, pro-handover. The changes that happen here are most probably going to be subtle and won't directly effect the majority of Hong Kongers. "Uncertainty," however much overused the word may be, really is the state of affairs here. There aren't going to be any tanks rolling down the streets for a long time yet, if ever.