Magazine article Nieman Reports

Media Rights in the New Hong Kong

Magazine article Nieman Reports

Media Rights in the New Hong Kong

Article excerpt

I am aware that Hong Kong is suddenly getting a lot of attention from the United States government and the American media. American officials and Congressmen seem to be making an attempt to "elevate" Hong Kong to the same status as Taiwan, Tibet and human rights as one of the central issues that will seriously affect Sino-U.S. relations.

Hong Kong had not been given such a degree of attention by Washington in the past. I wonder why for 150 years the American government never raised any meaningful objection to British colonial rule over Hong Kong; why there had never been any objection to the draconian laws in Hong Kong that existed up to the mid-1980's, including laws that were a constant threat to freedom of the press here.

Only now, when we see the impending end of colonial rule over Hong Kong, does the American government start to pay attention. One would suspect that the American government, together with a large part of the American media, regard the end of colonial rule over Hong Kong as a change for the worst, and would prefer Hong Kong to remain under colonial rule rather than to attain a high degree of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. Are these people really the descendants of American foundling fathers who fought against British colonialism?

I have no objection to any belated attention, so long as Hong Kong will not be stifled by people who are over-zealous but lack sufficient knowledge. You, of course, will have a better assessment of how much Americans know about Hong Kong. I remember an occasion in 1985 when I was in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was not as young as I'm now (to paraphrase Bob Dylan) and for some obscure reason I went into a disco and there met a local woman. We struck up a conversation and when she knew that I came from Hong Kong, she asked, "why do you keep exporting so many automobiles to us?"

Then last year I got a letter from a "National Technical Information Service" under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The letter asked for permission to translate articles in our paper to be put into their database, to be sold as a service to subscribers. Later I received another letter from them saying that we would eventually receive a check for the number of hits accessed by Internet users. The address they put down on the envelope was our office at 342 Hennessy Road, and after the road name was the city name "Hong Kong," and then the word "Taiwan."

Without sufficient knowledge of the facts, Americans will have understandings about the future of Hong Kong. They will be easily misled by people with strong biases, some of them in the American media. One can almost draw parallels with 1949, when the Chinese people generally referred to the success of the revolution as "liberation," some Americans bemoaned the "loss" of China to Communism. The demonizing of China in the American media went on for more than 20 years, until President Nixon's visit to Beijing. But then it seems that old habits really die hard.

As a journalist I covered the process of the Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong in the early 1980's, and the long transition period since. Initially the British, supported by some other people, declared that the return of Hong Kong to China would spell economic disaster for the territory. You know very well the real economic picture in Hong Kong today, and the doomsday prophets are proven wrong. But now they have another theme and say that even if the economy is all right, civil liberties here, including press freedom, will suffer after the British have departed.

Article 23 of the Basic Law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is regarded by these people as a threat to freedom of the press and other civil liberties. As a member of the National People's Congress of China, I voted for the adoption of the Basic Law in 1990. It is my view that the "Basic Law" enshrines the "one country, two systems" concept of Deng Xiaoping and is the best guarantee for civil liberties for the people of Hong Kong. …

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