Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Hong Kong democracy constantly delayed

By Jackson Yeh葉國豪

On a rainy day seven years ago, 156 years of British colonial rule in Hong Kong came to an end. With promises and slogans such as "one country, two systems," "Hong Kongers administering Hong Kong" and a "high-degree autonomy," the territory was handed back to China.

Beijing wished to achieve three goals through the handover. First, to use Hong Kong's economic value; second, to further its goal of national unification and third to use Hong Kong as an example for Taiwan.

Hong Kong's democratic transformation is especially unique and worthy of concern from the aspect of comparative politics. As a former British colony -- unlike other colonies after World War II, it was unable to obtain independent sovereignty and turn itself into a new country through the process of decolonialization and sovereignty handover. Due to Hong Kong's status of being decolonized but not becoming independent, its democratization was destined to be decided mostly by Britain and China (which now claims sovereignty over the territory). As a result, this top-down process is constantly delaying Hong Kong's democratization.

There are two factors that continue to delay democracy in Hong Kong. First, external forces (either the British or the Chinese governments) have the power to carry out Hong Kong's democratization. The territory's transformation from colonial authoritarianism to a representative system has been significantly affected by both the People's Republic of China and Britain. Both the Britain and China have dominated the loosening and tightening of political opportunities in Hong Kong's transformation. Local democratic forces have limited influence and can muster only passive responses most of the time.

Second, the progress of transformation is slowed due to internal pressure. Hong Kong's powerful political and business forces, along with a largely apathetic middle class which is uninterested in politics are both disadvantageous to democratic development. Further, the territory's conservative political elite stubbornly resist the implementation of political accountability, saying it may damage economic competitiveness, turn the territory into a welfare state, or fail due to the lack of popular participation. And, although the middle class supports the direct elections for the chief executive and lawmakers, they are reluctant to pay a price when taking action.

On April 26, China's National People's Congress officially denied Hong Kongers the right to directly electing their chief executive and lawmakers in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Thus, the limited democracy in the territory has not improved after decolonialization.

The people of Taiwan, on the other hand, should be glad for the freedom and democracy they have obtained within less than 20 years after the government lifted martial law in 1987. However, Taiwanese society faces constitutional disorder, as many people refuse to recognize the legitimacy of national leaders. The Taiwanese are also severely divided along political persuasions. The situation in this country is much more serious and dangerous than in Hong Kong.

Many Hong Kongers have strived to safeguard their existing freedoms while pursuing democratization. The Taiwanese people should show their support for such efforts. This also serves as an opportunity for Taiwan to cherish and reevaluate its own democratic achievements. The people of Taiwan and Hong Kong both deserve a more robust democratic society.

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