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Dec 02

Henry Hyde

Location: Hong Kong

The full text of the speech, entitled "Hong Kong, China, and the World," is available at:

Excerpts from the speech:

In its scale and speed, China's development is unprecedented, with consequences that will reach deeply into every country long before the world is ready. Whether or not China's emergence will be positive or negative, cooperative or combative, no one yet knows, not even the current Chinese leadership.

Despite increasingly strenuous efforts by a once all-powerful regime to preserve its control, its economic reforms have released powerful and transforming forces that by their nature are uncontrollable. This lack of direction extends to China's expanding influence in the world.

The advance edge of that influence is most obvious in international commerce, where China's seemingly inexhaustible capacity for growth is producing unsettling effects.

Already, China's economic prowess is making possible a rapid expansion of its political and military power.

China's leaders do not appear to fully comprehend that the advancement of their own interests requires an understanding of the interrelationship between their actions and the well-being and forbearance of the rest of the world.

China's enormous size guarantees that its rising influence will transform the international system.

The most important feature of the existing international order has been the willing acceptance by the United States of responsibility for ensuring the stability and security of the international system as a whole.

Those who decry the unilateral efforts of the United States as arrogant and pernicious often express their preference for the benefits of a multipolar world in which the rise of other powers will offset the dominant role of the United States. They may soon get their wish.

The rising power of countries such as China will likely constrain the United States from acting alone and decisively. Organizing cooperative efforts to respond to threats will require much more time and tortured negotiation, with irresolution and paralysis an increasingly likely outcome.

Currently, both North Korea and Iran are attempting to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. The United States has taken the lead in trying to prevent these unambiguously threatening ambitions from achieving fruition.

China's role regarding these threats has fallen between offering begrudging help and doing outright harm. In North Korea, China possesses vastly greater influence with the regime than it claims, but China has brought only the mildest pressure to bear on Pyongyang, and with very limited results.

Even as the United States attempts to persuade the international community to take action to prevent these extraordinary threats to the world from becoming a reality, Beijing has made clear its determination to veto any effort by the United Nations Security Council to do so.

As China evolves from a regional power into a global power, its ability to actively contribute to or undermine order and stability in the international system will grow as well. China could well upend the whole, becoming a revolutionary power blind to the consequences for itself. Or it could become an ally in the need for a joint effort to reinforce the security of the international system as a whole. In large part, the course will be determined by the nature of the political system that ultimately emerges in China.

Communism is dead in all but name. While liberation from a ruinous ideology has allowed reforms to take place, it has also resulted in a growing problem for the regime whose legitimacy is based upon that very ideology. What will replace it?

There is a danger of a virulent form of nationalism being used to legitimize the regime and to drive an aggressive foreign policy.

A far more benign prospect for China and the world is the democratic one brought into being in a gradual transition.

Whether or not the people of Hong Kong and the government in Beijing wish or even recognize it, the unique status and relative freedom of Hong Kong have made it the preeminent testing ground of the possibilities of China's political evolution, the most difficult and important test being whether greater freedom and democracy can be made compatible with the Beijing's insistence on order and stability.

Progress toward democracy requires simultaneously achieving three separate and somewhat contradictory goals: 1) a gradual and continuous expansion of freedom and democracy, including increasing control by the people of Hong Kong over their own affairs; 2) the preservation of order and stability and the absence of overt challenges to the government's authority; and 3) maintaining strong economic growth. A significant failure in any one of these would probably be sufficient to undermine them all.

For the leadership in Beijing, the course of managed change will always carry the risk of a radicalization of the democracy movement's demands and a possible showdown far more dangerous than at present. But efforts to forcefully hold in place the status quo are likely to result in the very disorder that its policies are attempting to prevent.

Hong Kong's success in this Long March of short steps would be applicable to the rest of China as a model of how political liberalization can be reconciled with enhanced stability and China's modernization. For those in the leadership in Beijing who understand the wonders that political liberalization would make possible for China, this is the best option they will have of mapping out a path through a treacherous and unexplored terrain.

The entire world has a vital interest in ensuring that China's rising power is channeled into productive directions and away from the threat of a revolutionary impact that would wreak havoc on the international system it is entering. This outcome that can best be ensured by an increasingly democratic and cooperative China, one prepared to accept broad responsibilities commensurate with its increasing power. Hong Kong's fate will be the best measure of the possibility of China's democratization.

More About the Speakers

U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL),
Chairman of the House Committee
on International Relations

Click here for pictures from the event

Hosted By

The Heritage Foundation The Heritage Foundation

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