A Smooth Transition for Hong Kong?

Article excerpt

There will be no forked lightning, no clap of thunder on June 30 when Hong Kong is transformed from crown colony to special administrative region.

Britain's lease is expiring, and the old landlord is coming back as the People's Republic of China. To some, it is a fearsome prospect, the capitalist money machine swallowed up by the communist dragon. But Hong Kong today is not in retreat. It is booming, as before. The inevitable has been judged acceptable.

A year ago the mood was different. People mistrusted Beijing's assurance that Hong Kong would be governed by Hong Kongers and have a "high degree of autonomy" for at least 50 years. For many years some sought to escape before the worst overtook them. But, as the months passed, there has been no new exodus of people or money. In fact, doubters have returned and new funds have poured in. Cranes everywhere insert new pencil skyscrapers into the hillside above the fabulous harbor. The biggest airport in Asia goes into service next year. An enormous new suspension bridge will connect it with the mainland. What is already the world's largest container port is being expanded. Britain's farewell feast Continued prosperity has eased tense nerves. Job opportunities, filling thick sections of newspapers, betoken a labor shortage. The budget is in surplus. China stresses continuity. The cliche of choice is that Beijing does not want to kill the goose that lays such golden eggs. Certainly, it knows that its treatment of Hong Kong under the motto "one country, two systems" is a test case for reunion with Taiwan. It is also aware that the future of Hong Kong will be followed intently by governments and investors in nations with which China wants to do business. The stakes are high. Britain alone has $100 billion invested in Hong Kong, and the US more than $10 billion. Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are to be on hand for the transfer, in an assembly of world leaders. The proceedings, both sides say, will be solemn and dignified; no bathos of reconciliation. Britain starts the evening. The Prince of Wales hosts a farewell dinner for thousands. A bagpipe band of the Black Watch, flown in for the occasion, adds a touch of nostalgia. There are barely enough British troops left to stage a tattoo. Then, after some fireworks, on the stroke of midnight, the British flag comes down and the prince, together with Gov. Christopher Patten, helicopters out to the royal yacht Britannia ready to quietly take them home. China's leaders will not be present. They will come as China's flag is immediately raised. President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Li Peng will be there by right - not at Britain's invitation - to install their chosen chief executive and his government. What follows is to be the grandmother of all fireworks displays by the people who invented them. …