Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ask not for whom the bell tolls...

China's promise that Hong Kong will remain unchanged for 50 years under the policy of "one country, two systems" has lasted for less than seven years. On the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, democratic groups are scheduled to launch a large-scale demonstration today, demanding that Beijing keep its promises of direct elections of the chief executive and the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. It's estimated that more than 300,000 people will take part in the protest.

Last year over 500,000 protesters took to Hong Kong's streets on this date to denounce the legislation based on Article 23 of the Basic Law. The action focused the attention of the world on the erosion of Hong Kong's freedoms and the delay in giving it accountable democratic government.

The government's legislation of a controversial anti-subversion law, which could have easily been used to cook up charges of treason against democracy activists, was frustrated as a result of the demonstration. But less than a year later, on April 26, China's National People's Congress dashed Hong Kong people's hopes to directly elect their leader and lawmakers by 2007 and 2008, respectively, basically trying to delay the democratic development of Hong Kong forever.

Economically, Hong Kong prospered mightily under British colonial rule. Although it suffered from the global economic downturn and the outbreak of SARS last year, its economy is recovering as the global economy grows this year. The Hang Seng Bank also revised its forecasts on Hong Kong's GDP growth for this year to 6 percent from 5.5 percent yesterday. Still, the halo surrounding Hong Kong's economy has faded. The exotic cultural crossroads atmosphere of Hong Kong's society has been replaced by Sinification. Hong Kong has lost its charm to become another drab Chinese city. If this was the intention of Hong Kong's nationalists, we can only congratulate them on their stunning success.

Hong Kong and Taiwan have both been deeply influenced by ideas of free trade, and over the last 50 years have also remained open to Western cultural influences and are therefore international in outlook. We must give our spiritual support to Hong Kong's demonstrators. Democracy has never been a gift from heaven and has always been paid for in the blood and sweat of the people.

On this anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China, the oppressive rule they have endured over this period undermines the legitimacy of Beijing's insistence on the "one China" principle. Hong Kong's example reinforces the commitment of Taiwan to democracy, and the belief that the achievement must be protected. Taiwanese can see quite clearly the bleak result of putting faith in China's promises, which have been shown to be no more substantial than the clouds.

China has constantly sought to disparage Taiwan's democratic achievements, emphasizing that democratic politics are merely another way of gaining power, the aim of which is to declare independence. It has used this as a stick with which to beat Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists. But democracy is a universal value and Taiwan's democratic reforms are only a small part of a great international current flowing in this direction. Alone our strength might be insignificant, but we call on people all round the world to lend their voices in support of the people of Hong Kong in their action to achieve democracy.

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