Magazine article Newsweek International

Fanning the Flames; Beijing's Dictates Are Getting Hong Kong Fired Up

Magazine article Newsweek International

Fanning the Flames; Beijing's Dictates Are Getting Hong Kong Fired Up

Article excerpt

Byline: Alexandra A. Seno

Until she joined Hong Kong's dramatic 500,000-person protest last July, retired bank employee Lam Sau-wan didn't think of herself as someone with powerful political convictions. Yet last week, despite the pouring rain, she felt compelled once again to commute an hour and a half from her home to join 3,000 protesters at an evening political rally in front of the Legislative Council building. "I came because I think it is very important to make China hear my voice," says Lam. "I want China to respect Hong Kong." With a yellow ribbon of protest tied to one side of her eyeglasses, the 56-year-old held her candle as the crowd chanted "One man, one vote."

Those chants may soon grow louder. This week China's National People's Congress is expected to announce a ruling that could be a serious blow to the territory's hopes of picking its own leaders. According to the Basic Law, which Britain and China negotiated prior to the island's return to the mainland in 1997, Hong Kongers could be going to the polls to select their chief executive in direct elections as soon as 2007. Political analysts now expect the NPC's legal ruling to push back the timing for direct elections beyond 2007 with vague language about the territory's need for slower, evolutionary political change.

If that is the rationale Beijing offers, few people in Hong Kong are likely to buy it. A more plausible explanation is China's lack of faith in their self-appointed chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa; he's so despised that any successor is likely to capitalize on anti-mainland resentment. The timing doesn't help either: Beijing already has one eye on 2008, when it is scheduled to host the Olympics, and when Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian will be wrapping up his second term. If Chen is to make any dramatic moves toward Taiwanese independence, that would be the time; the last thing authorities want in the run-up to the Games is more trouble on its periphery. …

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