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Monday, July 2, 2007

hong kong, 10 years after

June 1st marked the 10-year anniversary of the transference of Hong Kong's sovereignty from Great Britain to the People's Republic of China. In the 1990s, Hong Kong residents and the international community alike imagined that the 1997 handover to communist-led China would mark the end of Hong Kong's civil liberties, rule of law, and robust, open economy. In principle, Hong Kong was to become a Special Autonomous Region, but if the realities of autonomy in Hong Kong were to be anything like the Tibetan experience, Hong Kong, "Asia's World City," was doomed to devolve into a puppet of the Beijing government. Or so the world thought.

In fact, the mainland government has done a fairly commendable job of maintaining Hong Kong's outstanding institutions and economic independence. For the most part, Beijing has shied away from meddling in Hong Kong's judicial processes and has not bothered the openly critical Hong Kong press. The mainland government has not interfered in Hong Kong's economic policies either. And, in spite of financial setbacks stemming from the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the American dotcom bust in 2000, and the SARS outbreak of 2003, Hong Kong's real GDP grew at a brisk 6.9% in 2006 while maintaining impressively low inflation. And although Shanghai's rapid growth since the early 90s may eventually allow mainland China to compete with Hong Kong as the business and financial capital of Asia, for the time being, Hong Kong is still Asia's number one city.

Except for one small problem. Hong Kongers can't vote for their government. Even though Beijing promised representative democracy to Hong Kong residents on numerous occasions, the PRC has taken drastic and generally shady measures to ensure that pro-Beijing politicians make up the majority of Hong Kong's government. Indeed, Hong Kong citizens only elect half of the tiny Legislative Council that runs the territory and have no say in the selection of the Chief Executive (basically the governor of the territory) who is essentially hand-picked by Beijing.

As such, thousands of Hong Kongers filled the streets yesterday to speak with their feet. According to The Guardian, at least 6,000 people "marched through the city centre chanting, 'One man, one vote', and carrying banners proclaiming, 'Democracy is not a gift from Beijing'." Indeed, "polls suggest the vast majority of Hong Kong people would like full democracy immediately." But of course, Beijing is afraid of democracy anywhere under its flag, especially since Hong Kong will fully merge with the PRC in 2047. Democracy in Hong Kong will either compel the mainland towards political reformation, or force Beijing to reconsider its future relationship with Hong Kong. Hu Jintao's government has never seemed too keen on the idea of democratization or political reform. Yet The Economist notes that, "in recent months [Hu] has tolerated an unusually open debate about the country's political options". In reality, this is nothing more than showmanship meant to coincide with both the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover and the ongoing build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Hong Kong is one of the world's most intriguing, most cosmopolitan cities, and it is a terrible shame that the Beijing government denies its people democracy. Whether full democracy will ever materialize for Hong Kong remains uncertain. In Wong Kar Wai's 2004 film 2046 (the last year of Hong Kong's autonomy), a train departs for the year 2046 where "nothing ever changes" but "nobody really knows if that's true because nobody's ever come back." Time will tell whether Wong is right.

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Blogger elpee said...

glad to have you back, richard

7/2/07, 2:38 PM  
Blogger elpee said...

also, i saw the movie 2046. it was not that great.

7/2/07, 2:39 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Thank you.

And 2046 is one of my favorite movies, so one of us must have bad taste. I won't name any names.

7/2/07, 5:06 PM  

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