Fri, Mar 15, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Hong Kong is proof of China's lies

By Hsu Tung-ming 許東明

The well-known Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-wai (王家衛) once illustrated his concept of "identity" by saying,"If I stay in room 2046 in the Grand Hyatt, am I staying at the Grand Hyatt or am I staying in room 2046? As far as I'm concerned, they're both the same." He thus articulated the vague understanding of "identity" of most Hong Kong citizens. The vagueness of that understanding is one for which they are now paying dearly.

The recent, uncontested nomination of Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) to a second consecutive five-year term is the unpleasant result of Hong Kong's acceptance of China's "one country, two systems" policy. The deeper significance of Tung's appointment is that it shows social forces in Hong Kong are beginning to break up under Beijing's aggressive interference. They are being replaced by instruments of Beijing's power that are difficult to challenge and are led by Tung.

Beijing's power in Hong Kong has grown through a complex network of relationships in political and industrial circles. Basically, wealthy business leaders in Hong Kong and the children of Chinese Communist Party cadres have become the main players in this network. The main reason Hong Kong business leaders actively try to curry favor with Chinese officialdom is that they hope to build a mutual patronage and support relationship and use this political protection to expand their own interests and market shares in China.

Hong Kong is a society that glorifies wealthy businessmen. In a society with huge income dis-parities, these business leaders have a greater right to speak out and more social influence. The Far Eastern Economic Review, for example, once pointed out that "what is threatening Hong Kong is not Chinese-style communism, but rather Chinese-style capitalism."

Chinese-style capitalism emphasizes a dependency relationship based on political power, and in the process of throwing themselves into the arms of Chinese officials, Hong Kong businesspeople have undoubtedly given Beijing's political forces easy access to Hong Kong society. In fact, the Communist Party has not tried to rearrange Hong Kong society, but rather selected political representatives from among the existing social elite on the basis of loyalty.

Since Hong Kong business-people are falling all over themselves to invest in China, Chinese officialdom has acquired the power that the threat of political sanctions offers. In 1994 when Jimmy Lai (黎智英), who owned the Giordano clothing stores at the time, criticized -- in his own Next magazine -- then premier Li Peng (李鵬), Giordano's stores in China were closed down, one after the other.

Tung may only be a symbol. If there were no Tung, there would still be many businessmen fighting to become chief executive and Hong Kong society would still be breaking up.

Civil society in Hong Kong since World War II has seen only short periods of heated activity. One of these occurred while the Cultural Revolution raged in China and Hong Kong's left-wing youth were attracted by the world-wide surge in radical leftist movements. Another, later period was that involving a film movement which set out to search for Hong Kong's roots. These were, however, isolated and brief occurrences that did not amount to a strength-ening of civil society.

Even though the British colonial government established a Legislative Council that was partially elected by popular vote, and even though there were people in the Democratic Party calling for human rights and participating in the council's elections, the council was incapable of effectively monitoring the government. The people in the Democratic Party were little more than missionaries and preachers.

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