Wed, Jul 04, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Hong Kong is still no Manhattan

By Paul Lin 林保華

Since Anson Chan (陳方安生) resigned as Hong Kong's chief secretary for administration, two of the three most important departments in Hong Kong's civil service have come to be headed by trusted followers of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) -- Finan-cial Secretary Antony Leung (粱錦松) and Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung (粱愛詩).

Of these two, Antony Leung was plucked from a private organization -- naturally because of his "patriotic" background -- to fill the position vacated following Donald Tsang's (曾蔭權) promotion to Chief Secretary for Administration. But "patriots" have a common malady, namely the fact that they entertain visions of grandeur. This is the main reason behind all the toadying that goes on in the culture of the Communist Party of China (CPC) where everyone wants to put on a good show for the party and prove that the party has not cultivated them in vain. As for Antony Leung's willingness to give up a high-salary job in order to take up a government post, it is likely there is still some factor of "party discipline" behind this.

Antony Leung seems to have less of a bureaucratic air about him, and has been able to win favor with the media. Maybe it's just that he puts on a better show than the others. It's a pity though, that some of his brave words caused his "patriotism" to surface.

After assuming his new post, he immediately stated that Hong Kong must "surpass Manhattan." Thinking back to the "Great Leap Forward" of 1958, perhaps you'll recall Mao's joke of an appeal to "surpass Britain and catch up to the US." This slogan also makes one think of the bold-sounding catchphrase, "The 21st century is China's century." Of course China and Hong Kong have their own goals to struggle for, but they should first observe the situation, and not indulge in sleepy foolish chatter.

Take for example the "Shanghai-phobia" that has appeared in Hong Kong, reflecting local fears that the territory's status will be stolen by Shanghai. Understanding the current situation, however, would show that while not entirely unfounded, this phobia is just paranoia. Without a doubt, Shanghai does possess all kinds of advantages over Hong Kong, including capital, talent and land, but Shanghai's information channels -- or those of any other Chinese city for that matter -- is now and always has been a lethal shortcoming. One can't help but wonder how the city plans to develop its financial industry while at the same time filtering the latest information through government censors. Can Shanghai become a financial "center" without freedom of information? And this is not to mention the other areas of invasive government intervention.

Thus, Hong Kong needs only to preserve its freedom of information and Shanghai will have great difficulty catching up. Unfortunately, however, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is currently closing ranks with the CPC at an alarming rate, thus reducing its own free space. Take for example media discipline. In their TV news programs, some Hong Kong stations have already to begun to imitate Beijing's CCTV. For example, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is no longer being referred to as the "President of the ROC" or of "Taiwan," but instead as just "a Taiwanese leader," in order to avoid letting people get the impression that Taiwan is a "country."

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