Glimmer of Hope

By Chui, James Wing-cheung | The World Today, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Glimmer of Hope

Chui, James Wing-cheung, The World Today

The election in mid June of Donald Tsang as Hong Kong Chief Executive has produced a glimmer of hope that the difficult eight years since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997 may yet end. Tung Chee-hwa's resignation from the post in March - two years before the end of his second five-year term - heralded the first leadership change since the transition. And that change matters to China because of Hong Kong's economic and political importance. Beijing also hopes to use Hong Kong to convince Taiwan that the One Country, Two Systems policy works, while Taiwan wants to keep the status quo by maintaining its distance from China.

HONG KONG'S ECONOMY WAS, UNTIL RECENTLY, IN THE doldrums, with record unemployment. The weak executive-led government produced so many policy failures, including mishandling the SARS virus outbreak, that alienated it from the public. Tung Chee-hwa's ineptness led Premier Zhu Rongji to complain: 'We cannot always discuss without decision, and make decisions without execution.' As the gap between the rich and the poor increases, social cohesion is at an all-time low.

The ill-conceived push to enact a poorly-drafted national security law fuelled suspicions of Beijing. A march by half a million people two years ago forced its withdrawal. The United States State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 on China suggested that Hong Kong's autonomy 'has been tested severely this year'.


Under the One Country, Two Systems policy which led to the transfer to Beijing, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is supposed to have a 'high degree of autonomy'. Unfortunately, fearing that Hong Kong would become a subversive base, China has handled it badly. Its repeated interventions raise doubts about whether Beijing understands how to run the territory.

Mainland officials accuse Hong Kong people of not loving China, when in fact the people are patriotic. Differences between party, state and civil society are not appreciated in Beijing, so government criticism is construed as anti-China.

The first interpretation by the National People's Congress, China's parliament, of the Basic Law, the territory's miniconstitution, damaged the prestige of Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal which is supposed to have the final say on all laws except those that bear on the mainland. Fearing that children of Hong Kong citizens, born on the mainland, would overload services, Tung initiated the action which overturned the Court's decision on their residence rights.

In a third controversial ruling, the People's Congress decided the new chief executive should serve only two years, the remainder of Tung's term. The intervention was justified on the grounds that a clear position would prevent legal challenges. Yet many still consider this a blatant violation of the Basic Law which provides for five-year terms.


There are implications beyond Hong Kong. What is happening is being closely watched in Taiwan, for which the One Country, Two Systems concept was originally designed. Yet much of Taiwan's political spectrum - ranging from the Nationalists, who are open to the mainland, to the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party - has never accepted the formula. They say they are already a de facto sovereign state and want to retain their status. Hong Kong's numerous problems with China confirm their scepticism. No wonder President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan declared after the 2003 Hong Kong demonstration: 'We don't want Taiwan to be a second Hong Kong.'

In squeezing Hong Kong, China is giving the separatists ammunition; democratising Hong Kong would help ease Taiwanese concerns.

China's December 2004 anti-secession law authorising military action, should Taiwanese independence be declared, has alarmed the international community. Yet the recent visits to Beijing by Lien Chan and James Soong, the opposition leaders in Taiwan, represent classical united front tactics. …

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