September 9, 2004
By Harvey Feldman
Will democracy survive in Hong Kong?
We'll know better after Sept. 12, when Hong Kong voters will elect
the 30 members of the Legislative Council who run in geographic
districts. Another 30 will be chosen by "functional constituencies"
-- businessmen, lawyers, accountants, etc. The functional
constituency approach (first developed by Benito Mussolini in 1923)
ensures the election of a conservative core group, one easier for
mainland China (PRC) to control.
That's an improvement over the last election when the voters
choose only 24 of 60, but it's far from what Hong Kong citizens
want. Back on July 1, a swelteringly hot day, more than half a
million of them -- a quarter of the city's adults -- took to the
streets, demanding more democracy.
But Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, says that won't
happen any time soon. In this, Tung echoes his masters in Beijing,
who fear that truly democratic elections in Hong Kong will raise
embarrassing questions in mainland China about the rule of the
unelected Chinese Communist Party.
Hong Kong's status is defined in the Sino-British Declaration of
1984 and the "Basic Law" promulgated by China in 1990. The first
announced Hong Kong would be joined to China on July 1, 1997. The
second was to serve as Hong Kong's constitution. Of course, Hong
Kong citizens played no part in negotiating the Sino-British
Declaration, and the Basic Law was never submitted for their
approval. Still, their social and economic systems, along with
their basic rights and privileges in all spheres except foreign
policy and defense, were guaranteed to them for 50 years. Chinese
law wouldn't be applied in Hong Kong, and the Basic Law stated its
"ultimate aim" was for the chief executive and all members of the
Legislative Council to be chosen by universal suffrage.
The Basic Law says that these changes can come any time after
2007. The marchers wanted to make sure they would. But last April,
China said this wouldn't happen. Perhaps in 2030, say mainland
Chinese commentators. And although Chief Executive Tung had
promised public consultations this year on universal suffrage, he
now says since Beijing has made up its mind there is no longer any
point to having them.
China has worked hard since July to prevent pro-democracy
candidates from doing well on Sept. 12. Character smears are rife,
with some of the more prominent members up for re-election accused
of "misuse of public funds." One democratic campaigner was arrested
on the mainland for "consorting with a prostitute" -- one of the
few times such an arrest has ever been made, and one generally
regarded as a setup. Meanwhile pro-PRC parties talk about the need
for "harmonious relations" with Beijing.
Despite hands-off pledges and the much ballyhooed "one country, two
systems" formula, PRC interference in Hong Kong has grown ever more
persistent year by year since 1997. When Tung Chee-hwa called off
the consultations on universal suffrage, Beijing's official New
China News Agency made clear his chain had been yanked: He was
authorized to "finalize relevant work arrangements" in Hong Kong
only after "consultations with the relevant departments of the
Central Government." Then in April, China's National People's
Congress announced that it, and only it, would decide if and when
Hong Kong citizens would be allowed to elect their
Beijing insists that U.S. officials have no business speaking up
on Hong Kong's behalf. But we have substantial interests in what is
the world's 10th largest trading entity and 10th largest banking
center. Hong Kong is also the 14th largest consumer of American
exports. Besides, about 50,000 U.S. citizens (including dual
nationals) live in Hong Kong, where there are more than 1,000
American firms. Direct U.S. investment tops $30 billion.
In 1992, Congress passed the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act. It
conferred trade, immigration and many other benefits on Hong Kong
as an entity distinct from China for purposes of American domestic
law. U.S. naval ships often call there. Though occasionally
contravened by Beijing, Hong Kong maintains an autonomous and
transparent export control regime designed to keep sensitive
military technology and equipment out of Chinese hands.
Certainly the U.S. should speak out in support of democratic
development in Hong Kong, undeterred by Chinese grumbling about
"interference in internal affairs." Hong Kong, whose present status
is the result of international agreements registered with the
United Nations, cannot be considered simply a Chinese internal
affair. America should no more hesitate to point out Chinese
violations of obligations toward Hong Kong than to point out
Chinese violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms at
This may mean forceful statements by the American Consulate General
in Hong Kong and at international venues, including U.N. bodies.
Nor should we hesitate to raise the subject in Beijing itself.
Congressional resolutions are an obvious consequence of the United
States-Hong Kong Policy Act, and should be encouraged.
It's high time we shined a spotlight on China's broken pledges --
whether Beijing likes it or not.
Harvey Feldman is a retired U.S. ambassador who was one of the
drafters of the Taiwan Relations Act. He is now senior fellow at
the Heritage Foundation's Asia Studies Center.
Distributed on the UPI wire.
Will democracy survive in Hong Kong?
Distinguished Fellow in China Policy
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