Mon, Mar 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Proof that China can't be trusted

So Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) thinks it is "necessary to review" the way the "one country, two systems" model is working in Hong Kong.

Since no details have been provided as to what such a review might consist of, it is hard to know whether we should feel pleased for the hapless citizens of Hong Kong or whether Hu's comment was in the vein of a mafia invitation to "See Naples and die."

Is Hu now ready to oust the conservative toady and utter incompetent Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) as chief executive, and make good on the territory's promised autonomy?

Or is he in fact about to admit that Beijing has no interest in preserving Hong Kong's autonomous status nor in introducing full democracy by 2007 that the Basic Law allows for -- and that he wants to change Hong Kong's relationship with Beijing to the same relationship that any other Chinese province or "autonomous region" has with the central government?

It is very noticeable that Beijing has consistently misread the Hong Kong situation, both before and after the huge demonstration on July 1 last year against the new security legislation introduced to comply with the Basic Law's Article 23. And this is not because Beijing hasn't been paying attention.

We recall how Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) watched the demonstration on television from Shenzhen, where he had traveled from Hong Kong the day before so as not to be embarrassed, while his subordinates observed the demonstration in the territory itself.

Wen's initial reaction -- stopping China's state-run media from suppressing all mention of the demonstration -- seemed quite encouraging. But Wen's openness was not matched with wisdom, because after considering the Hong Kong problem, Beijing decided that the answer was to throw money at it. If we just improve Hong Kong's economy, China's leaders thought, all this tiresome activism for civil rights and democracy will go away.

Beijing's reaction shows the limitations of the Chinese government's thinking. Perhaps this is inevitable for leaders who imbibed Marxist materialism with their mothers' milk; there seems no escape for them from an outlook in which everything is seen as a manifestation of economic discontent. Hong Kongers are anxious because the economy is not doing very well, goes the reasoning, so let's pep it up and discontent will go away.

Actually, the people of Hong Kong understand well enough that as long as Hong Kong is governed by a clique of pro-China business magnates for their own benefit, there is little hope economically or politically.

You cannot erode the differences between the "two systems" without undermining Hong Kong's prosperity. Hong Kong became prosperous specifically because it was not part of China -- and therefore not subject to the "Chinese characteristics" of massive corruption, cronyism and the lack of a legal system worth the name.

What is Taiwan's interest in this?

Let us make it quite clear that nobody outside the lunatic fringe is interested in "one country, two systems," as poll after poll has found. So the question of whether "one country, two systems" is a success or not is of little interest to us, though it does present a problem for those who would cite the Hong Kong development model as an economic paradigm for Taiwan's relationship with China.

What we are interested in is the extent to which China can be shown to negotiate in good faith. So far we have found that it can't -- and if there is one criticism to be made of the March 20 peace referendum, it is that the second referendum question proposes negotiations with people so incapable of keeping their word, unless that word is a threat, as to make talk pointless.

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