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