Magazine article Newsweek

A Time of Long Goodbyes: Hong Kong's Handover to China Has Been Widely Misunderstood. There Won;t Be a Cataclysm, but Freedom Has Been Lost

Magazine article Newsweek

A Time of Long Goodbyes: Hong Kong's Handover to China Has Been Widely Misunderstood. There Won;t Be a Cataclysm, but Freedom Has Been Lost

Article excerpt

Hong Kong's to China has been widely misunderstood. There won't be a cataclysm, but freedom has been lost.

WHILE THE CHINESE CELEBRATE THE YEAR OF THE OX and other creatures, they have no Year of the Termite. Yet that may be the future of Hong Kong--not sudden dismemberment by a mainland tiger, just a slow weakening of its foundations as corruption and connections eat away at its heart.

The momentousness of the handover is widely misunderstood. June 30 marks the first time since the 1945 Yalta Conference that any territory anywhere in the world has been turned over to a communist regime without a fight. The consequences are serious--to lose one for freedom after a decade of consecutive victories. Yet the anticipation of some cataclysm is misplace([ When the sun finally sets on the last major outpost of the British Empire, it won't be dark but twilight, a time of painful adjustments and long goodbyes. As I was reminded on a recent visit, turning out the lights in Hong Kong is virtually impossible. This is a city with 4 million phones, more than a quarter-million fax machines, 700 magazines and 59 newspapers. The problem is more insidious: self-censorship. Journalists and politicians of all stripes agree that it has already begun. With the exception of a feisty and extremely popular paper called Apple Daily and a couple of other independents, the local press is mouthing a form of political correctness in its attitude toward Beijing. C. H. Tung, chief executive of Hong Kong, recently warned his democratic opponents not to "bad-mouth" their city in the press, as if a little boosterism will see them all past the shoals.

Tung is in danger of entering toadyville. While the terms of the 1984 agreement outlining Hong Kong's future explicitly call for free speech and a free press, Tung, the dutiful Confucian son, has declared that criticism of Chinese leaders is not permissible. The shipping herr is already setting a precedent as Beijing's representative to Hong Kong, rather than the other way around. Yes, the British spent nearly 100 years violating the rights of Hong Kong Chinese, but that doesn't excuse anything that China--through Tung--might do now.

So forget all those condescending lectures about "Asian values" not including freedom. A free press is important on its own terms as a matter of basic universal human rights. Apple Daily is the canary in Hong Kong's mine shaft--if it's snuffed out, the world win know what the future holds.

But the more prosaic problem with both censorship and self-censorship is that they are bad for business. This is what American businessmen, who are optimistic about the future of Hong Kong (according to Chamber of Commerce surveys), apparently do not understand. …

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