Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese should not bury their freedoms

By Parris Chang 張旭成

How many people in Hong Kong would be willing to accept Chinese rule if they were to vote in a referendum? This is only a hypothetical question because the Chinese government won't give them the right or a chance to vote.

Before Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, many Hong Kong people still harbored some illusions about Beijing's promise to let Hong Kong remain unchanged for 50 years. The nationalist cause made some of them embrace the motherland, if only reluctantly. But their illusions have been destroyed by the changes Hong Kong has gone through over the past six years. The Pearl of the Orient is now sinking by the day.

At one point, Western industrialists who supported Hong Kong's handover to China made a very bold assumption, saying Hong Kong would have a subtle influence on China after its handover, spearheading liberalization and change on the mainland. China would then become more like Hong Kong, they said.

In fact, Hong Kong under Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) has become more and more like the Chinese mainland. "One country, two systems" is an empty phrase, a lie and a joke. What really hurts the people of Hong Kong is that their wallets have shrunk over the past six years. Real estate prices have fallen drastically and the industries have been hollowed out by the relocation of factories to China. Foreign businesses are also moving their Hong Kong headquarters to Shanghai or Singapore. Unemployment currently stands at 8.3 percent in Hong Kong -- far worse than in Taiwan or Singapore.

What's even worse, freedom of speech has withered in Hong Kong. The people's various freedoms and human rights have come under more restrictions. What makes many fiercely nationalistic Hong Kongers sad is the fact that post-handover Hong Kong can't appear to match its old self under British rule.

Over 500,000 Hong Kong people took to the streets on July 1 to protest against the Hong Kong government's plan to enact Article 23 legislation, which would restrict their freedoms. The protest has forced Tung and Beijing to postpone the legislation, but apparently this is only a delaying tactic.

Tung and his Beijing bosses have not really given up. They will push the bill once again when the time is right. Tung has not realized the motto, "Have Hong Kongers rule Hong Kong." On the contrary, he is having Beijingers rule Hong Kong by following Beijing's policies and orders.

Tung has been unpopular in Hong Kong over the years, as evident in his low public approval rates. In the dispute over Article 23, the media and many Hong Kong people have demanded his resignation. but Beijing still trusts and protects him, thoroughly ignoring the public opinion in Hong Kong. Western commentators hope that Beijing's new leaders such as President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) may make a major concession out of respect for Hong Kong's public opinion and demands for freedom and human rights.

This is naive and wishful thinking, I'm afraid. My concern is whether the Chinese communist leadership will suppress the Hong Kong people by force as they did to the students who demanded democracy in Tiananmen Square.

The ongoing debate on a referendum law in Taiwan is a stark contrast to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong serves as a mirror for the people of Taiwan. If the people of Taiwan elect someone like Tung Chee-hwa in the presidential election next March, Taiwan's future president will be a chief executive, not a president. The people of Taiwan should therefore keep their eyes wide open and not bury their freedoms and future.

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