Hong Kong Beyond 1997

An Interview with Governor Chris Patten and three Legco Members

Jesse Alan Gordon and Charles Wong, 1992

At midnight on July 1, 1997, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will transfer sovereignty of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. This event could mark the historical end of the British Empire -- Hong Kong is the last major colony still held by Britain.(1) This event could also mark the historical beginning of China's ascendancy as a major world power -- with Hong Kong, China will be the world's fifth largest economy(2) and a major financial center.

Britain and China signed the "Joint Declaration" in 1985, which declares that Hong Kong will retain its capitalist system for 50 years under Communist rule, an arrangement called "One Country, Two Systems." The current controversy involves the details of the "Basic Law," which will be the constitution of Hong Kong for the 50 year interim. The legislature of Hong Kong, called the Legislative Council or Legco, has 60 seats; some seats are elective and some are appointed; of the elective seats, some are elected by district ("geographical constituency"), and some are elected by special interest ("functional constituency"). The British are pushing for a majority of elective district seats, and the Chinese for a majority of appointed seats or functional constituency seats, since Beijing will effectively make the appointments.

HJWA interviewed representatives of the three sides of the issue. Governor Chris Patten, appointed by the British Parliament, represents the British perspective. HJWA welcomes the Governor to our Advisory Board as of this issue. Tam Yiu-Chung represents China's perspective. Mr. Tam is the Labour Functional Constituency representative of the Legco, a member of the Preliminary Working Committee (the PWC, China's shadow legislature), and the Vice-Chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong. We requested an interview with Zhang Chun Sheng of the New China News Agency, which is Beijing's effective embassy in Hong Kong, but our requests were postponed beyond our publication date. Emily Lau, an elected member of the Legco representing a geographical constituency, represents Hong Kong's perspective. Ms. Lau is one of the few full-time Legislative Councillors in the Legco. Martin Lee, also an elected Legco member, is the chairman of the United Democrats of Hong Kong. Mr. Lee is considered the "opposition leader" and received more votes than any other member of the Legco. The interview responses will be arranged by topic, although the interviews were conducted separately.

The Interests of Hong Kong

HJWA: What is your role in negotiating for Hong Kong? What are the interests of the people of Hong Kong -- would they choose independence, if they were given a plebiscite?

Governor Patten: The British role is to discharge our colonial responsibilities honourably and competently. Hong Kong has not been democratically run, but it has been under the democratic eye of Westminster. All other British colonies have been prepared for independence (via instituting an independent judiciary, a clean public service, and other democratic institutions). We considered the same for Hong Kong in the 1940s and 1950s, but China stamped their feet very loudly against it. We rejected an independent Hong Kong because it would have resulted in a fight between the Kuomintang and the PRC.(3)

Tam Yiu-chung: The target is how to maintain stability and how to create a smooth transition. The Western community does not really understand what's happening in Hong Kong. The West assumes that everybody would support the idea of democracy. They think the problem is that the China side does not accept democracy, or that because China doesn't have democracy, that they don't want it for Hong Kong. The problem is not democracy, it's trust.

Nowadays, China wants to recruit more Hong Kong people, and to work with the Hong Kong people. For instance, they established the PWC, to study different proposals. Beyond the PWC, they want a Hong Kong Affairs Advisor from among the HK people. China now consults with PWC -- they ask for their suggestions. Patten does not. China does ask.

Emily Lau: Nobody knows what the Hong Kong people want because nobody ever wanted to find out. Yes, there were some polls, but they're not very indicative. People are scared of doing such a poll. Because people don't discuss it, the issue has never been given a public hearing. Nobody has the courage to find out. Of course, on one level, you can say, These are all Chinese people, they should be part of China. On the other level, they are very afraid of the Communists. That makes some people hesitate. We're talking about some HK people losing the right of abode because they got foreign citizenship -- so many, over half a million, acquiring foreign citizenship -- why should they, if they consider themselves Chinese? It's a very complicated psychology. Because of that, it's very difficult to tell, if you gave them a say, what they would really opt for.

On Hong Kong independence, the British thought about it, and then they abandoned it. Of course, there were some Legco members who opposed it, but the British did not seriously try to push it. They abandoned independence very quickly. My opinion is: Let China develop, but leave us alone. That's all I'm asking for. Give us a separate existence under "one country, two systems." Leave us alone, give us a high degree of autonomy. If you want us to benefit you in one way or another, to come and do business, that's fine, but just leave us alone.

Martin Lee: What we've got to do now is take more advantage of what we can do now. Give ourselves some more elbow room. By analogy, there's a cage, and we're the bird inside the cage. We just want a larger cage. A larger cage is necessary because the smaller one may break. China would say, "if you just need one more inch, ok." But when the breaking point comes, I don't know. Deng wants the economy to be open. He believes he can let the economic half of the genie come out of the bottle, without releasing the political half. But that's not possible.

Reform of the Legislative Council

HJWA: The Chinese this week cut off negotiations about Legco "reform." What are the important issues in your reform package? Will China re-enter the negotiations, or use the Legco breakdown for political positioning?

Gov. Patten: I consider the important issues to be that the Executive is accountable to the Legislature. The Basic Law defines the composition of the Legco, which changes over time via an agree-upon escalation. Right now there's a majority of elective members; by 1995 all members will be elective. There are three components to the Legco: 1) direct geographical representatives (20 seats up for election in 1994, up to half by 1997); 2) the "elective committee", which is an alternative to appointment (10 seats up in 1994, will be removed by 1997); 3) functional constituencies (30 seats up in 1994, remaining at half in 1997).

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region could make all seats be directly elected after 1997. The difference between the sides now is that the Hong Kong proposal is for "single member constituencies" and the Chinese (less pro-democracy) proposal is for "double member constituencies." The effect of the Chinese proposal would be a halving of the number of elective seats, since pro-democracy candidates sweep every election.

Tam: Patten's reform proposals are not concerned with whether there is democracy or not. It's just for the arrangement of elections in 1994 and 1995. When we're talking about protocol proposals, we need to follow the Basic Law. Under the Basic Law, we have an arrangement already, discussion over which lasted nearly five years. During that period, many different classes of people, different associations and organizations, presented their points of view. The Basic Law represents a compromise and a starting point for 1997, and a timetable for direct elections. On directly elected (geographical) seats, there are 20 in 1997, 24 in 1999, and 30 in 2004. On functional constituency (interest group) seats, we all understand what those are now -- when Patten came, he was not accustomed to that kind of electoral seat, so he thought poorly of it.

If Patten's proposals cannot converge with and be consistent with the Basic Law, then the proposals will be implemented only for a very short period -- until 1997. After that, China will implement their own system, although I feel very sad about that.

Lee: Patten's reform package is very modest, but nevertheless acceptable as our bottom line. We support it, but we'd like to see more. What went wrong was that Patten decided to adhere to the Basic Law. The Basic Law was finalized shortly after the Beijing Massacre in 1989, and was a very undemocratic document. We've been pushing for the amendment of the Basic Law so that the British could give us more democracy. Beijing said very strongly that the Basic Law cannot be amended, as a matter of law, before 1997. But that's utter nonsense -- any law can be amended, particularly a law which is yet to take effect. Anyway, Patten wouldn't like to confront China there, so his package is consistent with the Basic Law . The Basic Law says there shall be 20 directly elected seats, and that there'll be 30 functionally elected seats -- that's an increase from the present number of 21, so the question was, how to allocate the nine. The Basic Law says that 10 legislators shall be appointed by an Election Committee, but it doesn't say how the Election Committee should be constituted, so Patten said, "I'll decide how within that. framework" That's very modest -- Patten is not a champion of democracy. We find that, if we must adhere to the Basic Law provisions, then his proposals are supportable, because they're about the fairest you can have, under that imperfect system. But he must push for the real thing. There's a Bill before the Legco dealing with less controversial matters of amending the Basic Law. In March we deal with the more controversial matters -- very difficult from the Chinese point of view. We want Patten to introduce the original version to us, and not the watered-down version.

The reason why I can support Patten's reform package as my bottom line is precisely the reason that China will not support it. I see that it is possible under this proposal for us to have a legislature which could not be controlled by Beijing. I see that it is possible, with 60 legislators, that we could have 31 who will not be dictated to by Beijing. So when Beijing wants to introduce a bill like Singapore's Internal Security Act, which empowers the government to lock people up without a trial, I want 31 out of 60 guys in Legco to vote No. Beijing sees it exactly the same way -- if we accept your proposal, they say, you may have 31 guys who can block us, so we can't control the Legislature. And they really want to control the Legislature, so they fight.

Lau: China's threat to abolish Legco is not just a bluff -- they might well do it -- and it's the municipal councils and district courts, too, that they've threatened to abolish. The post-1997 effects depend on who is in charge in China at the time, and what policy they adopt. That's very difficult to predict, although it's only 3-1/2 years down the road. The pre-1997 effect is that it's got more people to leave. Up until 1997, we'll have 3/4 million people holding foreign citizenship. Those who can will try to find a way out, and those who cannot will be very worried. But some will not dare to say anything, because if they speak out, they will be targeted, and they could be victimized.

There is a prospect of a political vacuum in 1997. There may be even political chaos. I don't think we should say to China that their refusal to negotiate is an empty threat. I don't know whether the negotiations will resume, but I think we should push on. It's been delayed too long. Patten has given us part of the package, which we're debating in the Council. I hope that will be passed very quickly, and then the second part will come. I think that we have to get on with it. The reform package is very late, and it's very little, and it's very pathetic.

Negotiation Process

HJWA: What are the issues and problems with the negotiating process between Britain and China? What are your greatest frustration with the negotiating process?

Gov. Patten: The number one frustration is that the PRC attitude is less than cooperative. We'd like to make more progress regarding the airport, the ship port, etc. Hong Kong is a "go for it" action-oriented community. Dealing with Chinese bureaucracy is rather annoying. We disagree on one or two major political issues, but we agree on others. Separate trade and politics, they say.

Conspiracy theories are rife in Communist countries. They say that we're part of a conspiracy to plant democratic time bombs to detonate after 1997. The issue of Legco is not about speeding up democracy, but about carrying through an agreed-upon and credible process. The Chinese have a different view about what constitutes a "fair election."

Lau: The biggest thing wrong with the negotiations is that we don't know what the hell is going on! We only know what the British and the Chinese choose to reveal in public. That may be the truth, or it may be half-truths. It's tragic that six million people have no say on the discussion of their future. Our future was discussed in the early 1980s behind closed doors, and that has continued up until now. We never found out what went on all these years behind closed doors.

The Hong Kong people should have representatives in the negotiation. Look at the case of the Falkland Islands -- they talked about the future of 1,800 people, and they had an elected Legislative Council and an Executive Council. The talks with the Argentineans were tri-partite negotiations. It was the Falklanders who did not want to be returned to Argentina, which triggered the war. It's very sad that 1,800 people can take part in the negotiation on their future, and here six million were denied a role.

Further negotiations between Britain and China are not necessarily good for Hong Kong. If they are talking to each other, that may mean that we are sold down the river even more. I don't advocate them fighting day and night. But facilitating their talking assumes that negotiations are definitely to our advantage. And I can tell you, that is not the case. For years, they've been talking, and we've been sold down the river so many times, over so many years.

Tam: During the transition period, we need to be more cooperative, but we feel very disappointed about the situation now. Relations are very bad indeed, since Patten became Governor in 1992. Prior to that, the British always went through the negotiation channel, which was understood to be the best way to solve problems. Beginning in 1991, the UK government changed their policy quite a lot, particularly after Patten's arrival. A less confrontational attitude by Patten is very important, because most of the HK people want a smooth transition, which requires support from the China side. We need to avoid confrontation to achieve that.

China had a lot of dialogue with the UK, in order to come to the Final Draft of the Basic Law. We had an understanding, and suddenly, the UK side changed their policy. The China side is very angry about that. They worry that if they accept British changes, that the UK will ask for more and more. There's a lot of criticism about Mr. Patten. But he's been made an international hero. That puts Mr. Patten in a corner.

Everything is dealt with confrontationally. The people ask, Why such changes? They have several reasons. First, the UK government feels that in the past, they used a strategy which is not so successful, so they want to change to take a hard line. Second, the UK side maybe feels that they have underestimated the Chinese side in terms of benefit from HK and investment in HK. China side needs HK much more than the UK side. Third, China needs UK support in order to have a stable, smooth transition. UK says, that China really wants the agreement, so the UK can take a very hard line.

Under the Joint Declaration, whatever affects post-1997 should be discussed by both sides, by the Joint Liaison Group. The China side is very angry because Patten's proposals ignore that process.

Lee: The China side says that they only reject reforms because they're done outside the agreed-upon process. They always say that. I say, if you will give me what I want for the people of Hong Kong, I will do it on my knees. What would have happened had Patten gone to see Lu Ping(4) first, before he had announced his package to Legco in October 1992? Lu Ping would have said, "Oh, I can't take that." So what do we do? Either you forget any reforms, or you'll continue to seek reforms outside the accepted process.

US MFN and Human Rights

HJWA: Do you think that outside pressure for human rights and political freedom in China has a positive or negative effect? In particular, should US Most-Favored Nation status be withheld, or be threatened to be withheld, contingent upon China's improvement of human rights violations?

Gov. Patten: I see a willingness and enthusiasm in the US to move away from MFN as the linchpin of Sino-US relations. We don't think it's sensible to mix trade and politics. That results in politics distorting trade. Keep the political arguments separate -- that's the same thing that China says about the US. The US can put pressure instead by exhibiting the proper attitude about quotas.(5) That would focus the argument on trade issues alone. Debate about weapons proliferation should focus on technological relations. Human rights issues should be addressed by an ongoing dialogue. Such a dialogue has now started between the UK and China. The best way to secure improvements in human rights is opening up China economically.

Lee: My party line is that MFN is an issue between two sovereign states, and has nothing to do with a Hong Kong Party like us. On the one hand, we would like to see MFN renewed with China, because it would help us. It would be terrible for us if it were not. But at the same time, we hope that the Chinese government will improve Human Rights. Not only for itself, but because it spares us another headache, another worry for the future MFN renewal.

Is MFN the right tool? I can only take the party line on the record. But I believe that the Americans have found a correct answer -- when you deal with the Beijing government, you've got to push them. Every bottom line for China, and indeed for any country, you can push. If you don't test the line, how do you know when you've reached the bottom line? During negotiations, when China becomes difficult, they say, "Alright, we've wasted enough time on you, this is what we're going to do. But, it will not take effect yet -- it'll be in 14 days," or something like that. Then invariably you get agreement. MFN is the US' most effective weapon. But, there's only one bullet in your gun. If you use it, there's no more.

On US-HK relations, the US has already passed the US-HK Policy Act, which mandates treatment of HK as a separate territory from the UK before 1997 and from the rest of China after 1997. So, deal with HK separately. If you believe that democracy if not suitable for China, there is no reason for you to believe that democracy is not for HK today. Just look at HK separately, as what we are today.

Tam: The China side would lose about US$2 billion from losing MFN. The Hong Kong side, including Japan, Korea, and the US, would lose US$18 billion. The US government changed its policy toward China. The US wanted to remain in a working relation with China, but the MFN is a problem. The US has done too much now with MFN, and it would be very difficult to turn it back now.

The US wants China to make some concessions and improvements on Human Rights, and to give more ground so that the US government can persuade Congress to pass MFN. I think that China will do something, but not too much.

We agree that trade and politics should be kept separate, but there's always a double standard. China and the UK always mix them together.

Lau: Using MFN on Human Rights is using a very blunt instrument. I also feel that China's Human Rights record is appalling. Because Human Rights is an international issue, a universal issue that transcends national borders, it's not just the prerogative of the Americans. I hope more countries will speak out on Human Rights. I hope more countries will use whatever measures they can to persuade China to improve their Human Rights record. I certainly don't want people to say that the message from HK is "don't do anything," that we'll all very happy with the Human Rights situation in China. That's not true at all -- or we wouldn't have had a million people marching in '89.

In theory, one can separate trade and politics, but in reality, all these things are linked. Even sports is linked to politics. But somehow, I hope the Americans can come up with some other regime or some other context to talk to the Chinese about Human Rights. In Hong Kong's case, the MFN issue is particularly complicated, because HK will be directly affected. I've talked repeatedly to American politicians, that it's not HK who is their target -- but the result is that HK will be hurt. So we hope that they will be careful in whatever they do. I don't know whether it is possible to devise something else, some other context in which to urge China to improve, rather than to link it to all sorts of other things.

UK-PRC Relations

HJWA: What are the implications of Hong Kong for Sino-British relations? And of Britain's influence for post-1997 here? The Chinese press in Hong Kong reported in January that there is a "split" in Parliament about Hong Kong policy.

Gov. Patten: The UK-PRC relationship is defined by the Foreign Secretary, not the Governor of Hong Kong. However, the bilateral relationship here is substantial and unique, and it focuses on Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a post-war success story. Hong Kong will constitute one-fifth of the GNP of China.(6) Hong Kong is one of the largest trade communities in the world -- look at the recent "Economist" article.(7) The future of Hong Kong's economic status is important for the UK's future.

Regarding the "split": That's a load of twaddle. We've got cross-party support for our policy. In a pluralistic society, there will always be some critics, but we have the support of Parliament and of the Government.

Lau: The British legacy in Hong Kong is the rule of law, we hope. Will it last? I don't know. Maybe it will be swept away. It will be one of the good things that the British leave behind, if it survives. If. It's something very valuable, even in Asian contexts. Respect for the rule of law, equality before the law, fair arbitration of disputes, and so on. We hope that can be preserved.

Tam: There's a lot of British investment in HK -- 40B now. That's a lot of benefit here. Of course, the UK side is still very affected up until 1997 -- they want their ideology to remain afterwards because they feel it is the best for the HK people. I don't think that's so.

I think that US wants to limit their involvement. When Guang Zemin met with Bill Clinton, they did not talk about HK issues. It's a very small issue. The target issue is China. Clinton has interests in the Chinese market.

Taiwan Reunification

HJWA: What are the implications of Hong Kong's reunification for Taiwan? Will Hong Kong be a precedent for Taiwanese reunification with the mainland? Do the Basic Law negotiations take place with ramifications for Taiwan in mind?

Gov. Patten: "One country, Two systems" is a policy with Taiwan in mind. Hong Kong was an issue in the latest Taiwanese election. The Taiwanese view PRC behavior with Hong Kong as a model. The PRC knows that, and they negotiate with half an eye on Taiwan. However, we negotiate for Hong Kong only.

Lee: Originally, China wanted to tackle Taiwan unification first, but they found that the British were so obliging, that they turned to Hong Kong unification first. They are still trying to entice Taiwan on more or less the same formula -- one country, two systems. Except that Taiwan continues with their own army, which is a big difference. But Taiwan is looking to HK, since if it doesn't work here, why should they have it? I think Taiwan wants confederacy.

The timing is important. HK will be in China's pocket on the 1st of July 1997. China is very relaxed about Taiwan -- they always believe time is on their side. They are not in a hurry -- another 50 years? Why not another 100? But we are worried -- we don't have that much time.

But that doesn't mean that nothing will happen for generations. Twenty years ago, would you have imagined what's happening n Russia and Europe? All you need is an enlightened leader. Could you imagine what would happen if an American Chinese returned, and said, "Communism out! Let's have elections, I may lose, but too bad," but then he wins -- by God, what would happen?

Tam: Taiwan wants to remain more independent than Hong Kong. China understands that. Mainland China is very big. Closing trade would affect Taiwan's authority. China would give more independence to Taiwan; they could keep their military.

Reunification with Taiwan is not so urgent. China cannot accept a declaration of independence. But both sides will continue to move closer and create more opportunity for unification. First, mainland China must upgrade their living standard, improve their economy, and then they can talk about unification.

Lau: Taiwan has its own agenda, and the Taiwanese are rushing into China to do business. If Hong Kong collapses catastrophically, that would shake up Taiwan.

China and Taiwan are talking already. Before long, we'll see them having direct negotiations on their political future. Then HK will become quite marginal and irrelevant. I've never seen Taiwan as something that has an important bearing on HK. Taiwan can list its own terms to China. Taiwan is much bigger and has more bargaining power.

Democracy vs. Economics

HJWA: Why has the focus been on political institutions, and on political freedom, instead of on economic issues? Are the two separable or inherently related?

Gov. Patten: Economic freedom and political freedom are interrelated. Cantonese and Shainghainese entrepreneurialism, which built Hong Kong, feeds into democracy, and democracy feeds back into entrepreneurialism.

Tam: I think that Hong Kong people don't mind whether political situations create democracy or not. The shares market, the price of property, etc., indicate that they don't mind if political proposals cannot be converged with the Basic Law. For more than a year they have had a confrontation, and they don't mind.

Lee: Are prosperity and democracy related? Of course! China is looking at Singapore as their model. Taiwan is not their model, because they are democratizing there, much faster than I thought. Beijing is pragmatic. In Tiananmen Square, they had to do what they did, to stay in power. Come 1997, why should they be so worried about their own position? People say that when democracy spreads to China like cancer, they'll be toppled from office. But it doesn't have to happen like that -- they can change with the times, as in Taiwan.

And Singapore is changing, soon. Lee Kuan Yew is giving a lot of advice to the Chinese government, for vested interest. How can he persuade the Singaporeans to continue to accept his party as the ruling party when they see democracy in HK under the Chinese Communist Party? So he's doing everything to ruin our chances!

Let's separate China from Hong Kong in terms of readiness for democracy based on economic development. In Hong Kong, we're already there. In many ways, we already aid developing countries. We are the world's tenth largest economy,(8) if counted as a separate nation. Nobody says that Hong Kong is not ready for democracy anymore. Even the pro-Communist party, the DAB, uses the name "Democracy." Everybody agrees that we are ready for democracy -- we have won that battle, after many years of fighting. Now there's just the pressure of timing. Only because China may do otherwise, even on timing there wouldn't be a difference.

"Democracy" means "people power," as simple as that. People should have more say in how the government is run. You don't need an academic definition here. People know exactly what they want -- to elect who they want to Legco and other councils, and to hold them accountable. Where else can you have a peaceful change of government, through the ballot box, every four or five years. Eastern European countries are trying to implement democracy in a failed economy. Always ask yourself the better question: "What would have happened to them had they not had democracy?" Civil war!

Freedom vs. Stability

HJWA: How does building "democratic institutions" affect China? China always say s that they are concerned with stability over democracy, because social stability creates economic prosperity.

Gov. Patten: I'm sufficiently Marxist to say that economic and social issues have political consequences. Hannah Arendt's book "The Origins of Totalitarianism,"(9) the classic work on the subject, says that modern technology results in more methods for preserving power. I think the opposite, that modern technology -- fax machines, telecommunications, and so on -- limit totalitarian power.

Lau: If we do not have democratic institutions, how do we underpin the rule of law? Even people who oppose democracy would agree that it is paramount that Hong Kong should continue to have the rule of law. How do you underpin it if we don't have relatively democratic institutions there? Also important is the preservation of freedoms. How do we persuade people that all those things will not be at stake?

Tam: The China side does not view it quite that way. We have the Basic Law already, which defines the political situation until 2007. The Basic Law cannot be changed before 1997, and the HK people don't want to change too much. If it were always changing, how could it give confidence to the HK people? We need cooperation to solve every core problem that the HK people face. For instance, SAR passports(10) -- how can we get one after 1997, they wonder. These must be solved during the transition period. Even the living standard of HK people will be affected.

Lee: When the Communists are uncertain, the Golden Rule, as we say in Chinese, is that if you must err, err on the side of the left, not the right, meaning you take the hard line. If you take the hard line, when things settle down, you can always readjust your position. But if you take the soft position, you lose your job. In the olden days, you'd have lost your head too, but nowadays it's just your job. They don't even know what's going to happen. And because of that, unless there is consensus in Beijing over HK, nobody would dare take the responsibility, because he would lose his job. So nobody is in charge, except Deng, and he's so old, that you can't expect him to follow anything.

Hong Kong would have democracy by now, but the British government would not introduce it. Look at the Singapore analogy. There are many Singaporeans who left the country. Half a year ago, they had an election. Not much choice, but the opposition got 40%. The guy only ran saying, "Well, I don't want to run, but Mr. Lee(11) wants it." He got a 40% protest vote! There are a lot of businesspeople who hate Patten, not because they disagree with what he's doing in standing up to China, but because they are so frightened of China. They are threatened by China behind the scenes: "If you support Patten, you are not on our side." So they all shut up. The honest people just shut up; the dishonest ones speak up for China, against their own conscience.

China wants certainty, and they want certainty now. They don't want to wait until 1997. If China can control HK today, there will be much less headaches for China on a lot of issues which are current. There is no certainty even in Beijing. Even the top Chinese officials don't know what will happen to them when the great day comes for Deng Xiaoping to see God in heaven.

Will Hong Kong Survive?

HJWA: What will happen post-Deng and post-1997? What if China reneges on the Joint Declaration after 1997?

Gov. Patten: First, there's a Joint Liaison Group which will meet until 1999. The Joint Declaration itself is an international treaty lodged at the UN. International reaction to the abrogation of the treaty is the means of enforcing it. Hong Kong is a great "shop window" for the new China. The international community would react if China started smashing up the plate glass.

Lau: I have never said that China would go about deliberately ruining Hong Kong. But neither should we assume that HK is indispensable to China. HK is very useful, yes, and China would like to inherit a very rich and prosperous HK. I don't think anybody would dispute that. But China is going to do that on China's terms, and that means that all the institutions would be under Communist control.

I don't profess to be a Sinologist, so I won't predict who'll be in charge in 1997. Even those who do predict, I don't trust them. How many people predicted the Tiananmen Square massacre? China is a very closed country. What we know is less than 3 or 4% of what's really going on, and even that is what they want us to know. So the whole world was taken aback by what happened in '89. All the machinations were behind the scenes. I don't think people have a very good idea of the power struggle that will happen -- who knows?

We have to assume that the Joint Declaration will survive, and that "One Country, Two Systems" will work. Many people do not believe in it, of course. But if we don't believe in it, if the Joint Declaration is in tatters, then on what foundation are we basing all our arguments? It's very sad -- you see the foundation slipping away, and what else do you have in its place? If that's gone, all bets are off, then what are we talking about?

Lee: Here's an example: I'm driving your car. You're sitting in the back, but it's your car. Three and a half miles down the road, I'm going to return the car to you, and we all know that. But I'm driving it. You say "turn right," and I go straight. You say, "Go straight," and I turn left. You can knock me on the head, but then I'll smash your car. The closer we are to 1997, the more leverage the British government has. China cannot afford to ruin Hong Kong. I posed one question to Patten: Who stands to lose more, if Hong Kong's economy is ruined, China or Britain? Therein lies your answer.

Patten has a lot of leverage. China has said a lot of nasty things in order to frighten us, but if you think about the real things which they could say to really frighten us, they never say. For example, "We'll switch off the water," or "We'll stop the food supplies." China could send their army in, any day, but it never happened, even during the Gang of Four and the Red Guards. Is it in their interest to send in the army in force? It's not in their interest to ruin HK's economy before 1997, and the same holds after.

Deng's succession brings up all sorts of possibilities -- will his successor stop economic reform? If he does so, he may hasten the death of the Communist Party. At the moment, the Communist Party no longer has any credibility left. The economy is ruined. "Communism" in Chinese means "sharing property" -- when I have no property, I like sharing yours. When the Communists first took over, they all shred the landowners' property. Before long, they got rid of the landowners -- they all got killed -- and then they starved. Mao Tse Tung could hold them together. But now they see wealth -- not necessarily money in their pocket, but they see how people make it -- and they want it. That's the trouble.

My assessment is that China will not necessarily demolish it from the first of July 1997. If they wanted to do that, they would not be shouting so loudly. They could just quietly say, "OK, do what you want," and come 1997, undo it all, as they did in Shanghai. The reason why they're shouting so much, is that they want the British to do the dirty work for them. The Americans and Hong Kong people will blame the British, not the Chinese. I do not believe they will do all those things when the whole world will be watching them, in 1997. Why should they do something stupid and get Congress entirely against them? This way, the British do it, and the Chinese can say "I told you so!" They also want to make sure that the HK people are taught a lesson. If China can get a Governor like Patten to be on his knees, from then on, who else would object? But if Patten stands firm, then what could China do? They don't want their car smashed, in my previous analogy.

The Tail Wagging the Dog

HJWA: Before Tiananmen, people said, "China is not taking over Hong Kong; Hong Kong is taking over China." Will Hong Kong liberalize and democratize China?

Gov. Patten: The trend in authoritarian regimes is to become more liberal. Look at Taiwan and South Korea. A developing middle class results in developing democratic institutions, which results in greater economic freedom and greater demands for open and free politics. Singapore is sui generis in this regard -- they're small enough that "intelligent despotism" can work.

Lau: No, I've never subscribed to the "tail wagging the dog" theory. Speaking as an elected member of the Hong Kong Legislature, my job is HK, unlike some other people who want to democratize China. It's a very laudable goal, but my job is to look after HK. There is a Joint Declaration, there is "One Country, Two Systems;" China will develop in China's way. And I hope according to the wishes of the Chinese people.

Lee: Yes, "the tail is going to wag the dog." That will go on, because we certainly wag Guangdong. That's the most affluent province in China. The Hong Kong tail is wagging the Guangdong dog. I'm sure this will continue. It's already spreading. Hong Kong manufacturers originally went to Shenzen, then to Guangzhou, then further and further north. It's getting more and more expensive, so they keep on going, which is very good.

The Eastern European Communist regimes collapsed because they didn't have a figurehead. They needed a good leader who could win the confidence of the people. They suffered so much under Communism, that they said, "Give me anybody but a Communist!" China can do better, because the economy will be developed first. People will say, "I'd better get the status quo, because if I get a new guy in , I may lose my wealth." So people may actually continue to elect a conservative party in order to preserve their wealth, even if they reject socialists. All we have to do is continue to thrive as an international city, and it's bound to rub off on the rest of China.

I'd like to see HK as a Special Economic Zone, but also as a Special Political Zone. So they can see it's working -- that it doesn't ruin the economy -- and that they can apply it to the make changes to the rest of China. There's no reason the Communist leaders must go, so long as they keep up with the times.

Roles Until 1997

HJWA: What do you see as your role during the transition? What would you do differently, if you could do it all over again?

Gov. Patten: Politicians don't like reflecting on the past like that. But in any case, we could not tiptoe around the real questions of principle on which we've focused. We either must stand up for Hong Kong or we cave in. It's a straightforward choice. We must either have fair elections or rigged elections. My role is to secure the Joint Declaration.

Tam: We feel great difficulty during this period. We want to monitor the UK-based HK government so that they don't do anything to jeopardize Hong Kong. We urge both sides to have a more cooperative relation. As a member of PWC, I urge China to cooperate with HK people, to come together and remain stable and prosperous. To guarantee a smooth transition, we urge China to quickly find solutions, even though the political system cannot converge with the Basic Law.

Lee: If the old Governor, David Wilson, had remained, then the row between China and Britain would not have occurred, because Wilson would have done what Beijing wanted him to do. And Beijing would have wanted him to make it easy for Beijing to control us. Patten has done Hong Kong well by standing up to China. The people of HK don't want to be bullied. They want our leader to stand up to them. Look at the stock market, it's doing very well . In the olden days under Wilson, when Beijing made one threat, the market would crash immediately. China complains because they were spoiled by David Wilson. but now the people of HK are used to it. Patten has done one good thing -- he has trained the people to be more confident of themselves, so that when Beijing sneezes, we don't catch pneumonia.

Support for Patten is only waning because he's seen to be dilly-dallying over proposals and negotiations. When you follow a leader in whom you trust, you're prepared to die for him. When you see that leader hesitating, you say, well, why should I do anything? That's human nature. Originally his support was over 80%. He still has support -- more are for him than against him.

My role used to be that of bridge-building between Hong Kong and China. I used to talk with my Chinese counterparts, and I used to be very close to them. In 1985, the Legco began asking for reforms, which China declined, so the Legco refused to talk with the Chinese government. The Chinese had a press conference and accused the British in a very menacing way. I was extremely angry and I was looking for a response from the British government -- nothing. Nothing from the HK government. My colleagues in the Legco were interviewed by the television and said, "oh, it's hopeless." I thought, What should I do? Continue to be a bridge? But how can you? When you negotiate, there must be two positions, and you end up somewhere in between. China now is taking this position, and nobody took the other position, so I said OK, let it be me, I'll take that position and let other people be the bridge. I knew that I would antagonize China. If you do it on principle, China will not necessarily look upon you as an enemy. There are many chaps who say through our mutual friends, "Say hello to Martin for me," but they can't say that in public. But they all know that I'm doing this for HK.

I don't know about my role after 1997. There's clearly a possibility that I'll be put into prison, as a political prisoner. If you look at this part of the world, where don't you find political prisoners? India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Burma ... why should we be any different? I don't think that's too likely, because I'm too well-known, even outside Hong Kong. I am worried about those who are not known at all. Look at the dissidents in China: the big names are out. The lesser-known people are locked up and nobody knows about them. My role is to be here, and to shout when they are being arrested and going to prison.

Lau: I don't think we should go out deliberately to be confrontational -- especially for me, I'm nothing. There's no way I can confront China. But I think the people of Hong Kong should stand up to China. If there are certain things that need to be said, you can be sure I'll say them, and say them very loudly, for as long as possible, until I'm "muscled." But that may come very quickly.

I just hope that we will have a democratically free future. I would like to see HK people given the right to self-determination. That would be the ideal, but of course that's not going to happen. The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 was foisted on us, and in the Joint Declaration, the two governments promise to give HK a high degree of autonomy, a free lifestyle, and so on. What I'm trying to do is make sure that these two governments keep their promises. It's a very limited goal, very modest, but in these trying times, that seems to be asking for the earth.

I believe, that in order for the whole thing to succeed, you need a whole host of people, all doing what they think is worthwhile, and then somehow you all come together and you have a smooth transition. But now the future is in doubt and there are all sorts of problems on the horizon. But then, nobody ever promised us a rose garden.


(1) The largest of the remaining colonies and dependencies of Great Britain are: the Channel Islands, pop. 130,000; the Isle of Man, pop. 61,000; Bermuda, pop. 57,800; and Gibraltar, pop. 29,000. Hong Kong has a population of 5.6 million. Source: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1989, Pharos Books, New York, 1988; pp. 729-730.

(2) The five largest economies are: United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, then China plus Hong Kong. Other methods of measuring China's GDP would put the pair between eighth and twelfth. Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1993, (113th edition), US Bureau of the Census, Washington, DC, table 1388, "Gross National Product, 1980-1989", updated with growth rate estimates from CIA Handbook of International Economic Statistics, 1992. China ranks third in the world in Purchasing Power Parity-adjusted GDP, according to the Economist, 1/8/94.

(3) The Kuomintang, the ruling party of the Republic of China (Taiwan), was, until the Communist Revolution in 1949, the ruling party of all of what is now the People's Republic of China (PRC).

(4) China's Hong Kong Affairs Minister Lu Ping would decide upon reform measures within the accepted process.

(5) The front page news in Hong Kong during the late January is that the US is cutting China's textile import quota by 35%.

(6) China's GDP is estimated at $846 billion and Hong Kong's GDP at $77 billion, or 9.1%, according the Social Indicators of Development, World Bank, 1993, with growth rates estimated until 1994. For comparison, China's population is 1.2 billion and Hong Kong's population at 5.7 million, or 0.5%.

(7) January headlines in the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong English daily, heralded Hong Kong as the sixth richest country of the group surveyed by the Economist, as measured by Purchasing Power Parity.

(8) Not verifiable. Hong Kong is 26th in the world in size of GDP, with recent growth rates generously estimated. Source: Measuring Global Values: The Ranking of 162 Countries, by Michael J. Sullivan III, Table V2.1a.i. When measured by PPP, Hong Kong is well below 26th (see note.7).

(9) "The Origins of Totalitarianism," by Hannah Arendt, 1951, Harcourt, Brace, and Company, New York.

(10) Hong Kong will be administered under China as a "Special Administrative Region," which will have a separate passport. Such an arrangement is more independent than the better-known "Special Economic Zones."

(11) Lee Kwan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, who is still influential in their politics. Martin Lee has no relation to Lee Kwan Yew.

EJSCK Reprinted from "The Harvard Journal of World Affairs", 1994.
All material copyright 1993 by Harvard University, Jesse Gordon and Charles Wong.
Reprinting by permission only.


Jesse Gordon, 1770 Mass Ave., #630
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