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HONG KONG FACES 1997: RECOLONIZATION OR DECOLONIZATION

Kwok Nai Wang

 

The Kairos for Decolonization

 

On December 19, 1984, Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration regarding the future of Hong Kong on behalf of their respective governments. This signalled the end of the colonial rule and the beginning of a new era in Hong Kong. According to the Joint Declaration, Hong Kong will become a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples' Republic of China on July 1, 1997. Also in this agreement, China stated that it will not impose its socialist system and way of life on Hong Kong. Hong Kong will be given a highly autonomous status. With the exception of defence and foreign affairs, the central government in Beijing will not interfere.

Furthermore, Beijing will not send a government official (or officials) to govern Hong Kong. Instead, Hong Kong people will be given an opportunity for self-rule. Both the British Parliament and the Chinese People's Congress ratified the Joint Declaration in early May 1985. The transition period thus officially began. In theory, it marked the beginning of the decolonization process. Both sovereign governments as well as the Hong Kong government should spare no efforts to prepare Hong Kong people for this radical change.

 

The Dominant Negative Force

 

One of the first steps in colonization is to progressively introduce a fully representative government in Hong Kong. "The earlier, the better," as argued so eloquently in his letter to this author in early 1987 by the former British Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Almost seven years have gone by, the legislature, not to mention the executive branch of the Hong Kong government, is still firmly controlled by the governor and his handful of senior civil servants. True, Hong Kong finally held the first-ever Legislative Council Direct Election on September 15, 1991. Sixteen of the eighteen contested seats were won by people like Martin Lee and Szeto Wan, with impeccable records of fighting for democracy in Hong Kong for years. But in the subsequent appointments of the other eighteen seats by the governor, no other similar personalities were appointed. This means the whole legislature for 1991-1995 (18 elected by universal franchise, 21 elected by professional groups and trade unions, 18 appointed plus 3 most senior civil servants) is still tipped heavily towards supporting the government. In order to counter the United Democrats who hold 14 seats in the Legislative Council, 21 pro-establishment councillors have formed the Cooperative Resource Center (a government party in substance, though not in name).

 

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In other words, Hong Kong has less than six years before it becomes a Special Administrative Region of China. There are signs that the government itself is still in a standstill. It is still a very elitist government - ruled by a few and for a few.

One of the general marks of the colonial rule is that its government lacks social commitment. The provision of social services is placed in low priority. In recent years, we witnessed the privatization of important services such as housing and hospitals and cut back in welfare expenses. It has been decided also that citizens who use these services, social welfare included, will have to pay a percentage of their costs. This is a radical departure from the last century and a half. This implies tremendous financial burdens on the low income. For example, now you only need to pay HK$34 for a day of hospitalization. It's widely reported that the New Hospital Authority will require you to pay HK$100 next year. This will go up to HK$500 by 1995 the latest!

The existing government is less than committed to improve the livelihood of the masses of people. Inflation has been in double digit for a while. It reached an all time high of 13.9% this April. Instead of asking the wealthy to shoulder a fairer share of the problem, the government puts the blame on the rapid increase of wages. So, its major strategy to combat inflation - the No. 1 enemy in Hong Kong nowadays - is to import a lot of labourers. To meet itís ever growing expenditures, instead of a slight increase of corporate tax or profits tax (at maximum of 16% and 15% respectively), the government resorts to the increase of indirect taxes year after year. The quality of life for the low income families in Hong Kong has not shown any marked Improvement, especially when they are compared to their counterparts in Taiwan, Korea or Singapore.

Regarding the safeguarding of human rights, yes, a Bill of Rights was enacted on June 5, 1991. But the government is implementing it half-heartedly. The government in effect took the lead to violate it in mid-July when it refused entry to 15 Chinese students holding valid visas who wanted to come for a conference In Hong Kong at the invitation of the Federation of Hong Kong Students. Up to this date, the government has not set up a committee which it promised to promote the bill. Without a Human Rights Committee, the already watered-down bill will only be a well-decorated piece of legislation safely tucked away.

Instead of mustering the resources available to build up the people and the community in Hong Kong, in the remaining six years, the government decided to spend HKS127 billion (1989 figures) for the Port and Airport Development Strategy (PADS).

In the final analysis, the Hong Kong government in its sundown days remains quite colonial and archaic, greatly influenced by the wealthy industrialists and business tycoons who in turn monopolize

 

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the important facets of the common people: housing, transportation, telecommunications, etc. It is this government cum business force which prevents the process of decolonization in Hong Kong.

 

The Threat of Recolonization

 

In 1984, China promised to give Hong Kong a great deal. Even in foreign affairs, which will be the responsibility of the central government, trade matters are exempted. Hong Kong will be given an Independent trade negotiation status. This indeed was evidenced just a month ago when the Chinese foreign secretary, Qian Qichen and Hong Kong's Trade & Industry Secretary, Brian Chau, sat side by side in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum held in Seoul. At that time, Chinese top leadership was most concerned about the territorial integrity of China and Hong Kong's usefulness to China as a service center. Throughout the 1980s, China earned between 31% to 37% of its foreign exchange from Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a main provider for China's ambitious modernization programs. So, China intuited that besides the British flag and garrison, Hong Kong can continue to remain as it is. At that time too, China had adopted unprecedented open policies since 1979.

As time moved on, China was to discover the meaning and implications of having Hong Kong to remain as a "free enterprise region". The eight elder statesmen were very afraid to lose control on Hong Kong, and eventually on China as well. (Hong Kong style and way of life are always very contagious to China!) As we witnessed in subsequent years, China wanted to tighten its control on Hong Kong. This explained why there was no direct election in the Hong Kong legislature in 1988. (British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe had promised such in his press conference held in Hong Kong in April 1984; and so was Hong Kong government's "Policy Paper on the Further Development of a Representative Government" published in November 1984). This explained why the Basic Law promulgated in April 1990 was so undemocratic. It actually deviated in letter and spirit in many important places from the Joint Declaration. China wanted to interfere on Hong Kong's internal affairs and this became even more obvious when it wanted a say in the building of a new airport. The Airport Agreement signed by John Major and Li Peng in early September 1991 set a precedent on future mode of operation In Hong Kong. China's insistence on the constitution of a panel of judges in the Court of Final Appeal to be set up in 1993 (in place of the function of the Privy Council in London) also renders the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary after 1997 a hopeless case. All in all, these are the traces showing that the British rule is on its way out; and. the Beijing rule is on its way in. It means that British "decolonization" in Hong Kong is on the halt and "recolonization" by Beijing has already started.

 

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We cannot put all the blame on the Chinese leaders. The British government is also at fault. Invariably, it kowtowed to the Chinese on Its demands regarding arrangements for Hong Kong's future. It is an open secret that the British highly treasures the market in China. An amiable relationship with China is thus of paramount importance.

It has been said that all governments are dishonorable. In a way so are most of the traders. The British policy on China has been shaped by the Influential business community in both Hong Kong and Britain. Though deep down in their hearts, these business people do not like and do not trust the communists, yet and at least superficially, they want to accommodate the wishes of the communist regime in China. In return, the supreme leader in China, Deng Xiao Ping, had this to say, "Investors, put your hearts at rest," meaning China will take care of their interests if they behave.

 

The Dilemma of the Hong Kong People

 

When the Joint Declaration was initialled in September 1984, 81% of Hong Kong people said they could accept it. (Both governments had told them there was no other alternative). 98% of Hong Kong people are Chinese. On the whole, they are patriotic (as evidenced by the two billion dollars they raised to help the flood victims in Eastern China in July). They welcome the idea of having Hong Kong to be reuniting with their motherland.

 

 

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Conceptually, few people want to be "colonial subjects". The British government always treated Hong Kong people as second class citizens. Of the 8 million people now living in British colonies, only the 3.25 million born in Hong Kong are denied full British citizenship. Britain has ruled Hong Kong for 150 years. It has not undertaken any significant political reforms until this year. When it negotiated a future for Hong Kong with China, Hong Kong people were not consulted. As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civic & Political Rights, Britain's policies on Hong Kong are both morally and constitutionally indefensible.

Hong Kong people were led to believe that the Joint Declaration gave Hong Kong an "independent government" within China. But soon after the fall of 1985, Hong Kong people became very disillusioned. They came to know China has a very different interpretation and understanding of the Joint Declaration. China has no intention to leave Hong Kong alone. It would interfere with Hong Kong affairs at its whim.

The never-ending signals it sent to Hong Kong, in terms of warning and threats, reminded Hong Kong people once again of the fearful tactics of a totalitarian state. After all, 45% of Hong Kong people had fled China since 1949. Of course, the violent crackdown on the democratic movement in June 1989 dealt the most severe blow to Hong Kong.

For those who have the money and skills, they emigrated - 60,000 in 1989 and 62,000 in 1990. The Hong Kong government predicted that about half-a-million would be gone by 1996. For the five million who cannot leave, they have been suffering from a morale failure. The "everybody for himself or herself" attitude is predominant. Hong Kong is run just like a big corporation. It requires many more experienced managers and professionals it can produce by its institutions of higher learning. The brain drain is hurting Hong Kong immensely.

Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore had given the Hong Kong people a bit of advice, "Do not confront China." Since then, the Chinese authorities, several most senior British officials, countless business tycoons, and lately even the Hong Kong governor have all picked up this tone. In a recent survey, half of the journalists said they would give due consideration on China's feelings in their reporting. This kind of self-censorship is extremely harmful to Hong Kong as a free international city.

But the fact is, it is certainly legitimate for Hong Kong citizens to speak up on what they think are best for them - for Hong Kong is their home. The results of the first-ever direct election in the legislature indicated the Hong Kong people are not neutral. All Beijing or Hong Kong business community supported candidates lost. The pro-democracy candidates enjoyed a landslide victory.

 

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Increasingly, more and more community workers and young professionals have expressed their commitment to Hong Kong and their willingness to fight for a better Hong Kong. They deserve all the encouragement and support we can muster.

 

The Emerging Catalytic Forces

 

In theory, the church, beingan uninterested party, could have played a vital role in the people's struggle to be free. But this has not been the case with the church in Hong Kong.

Ever since itís beginning, because of the historical church-state relationship in England, the church in Hong Kong (especially the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church) always enjoys immense privileges and influence. Traditional churches are a part of the establishment. The score of the most famous church high schools produce elitists in their thousands who in turn help to uphold the colonial set-up.

Because of the acute need for relief, welfare and later, school places in the 1950s and 1960s, the mainline churches have seized the opportunity to build up a huge service empire. The evangelical churches meanwhile concentrated their efforts in church growth especially planting new congregations in new towns. In both counts, the church in Hong Kong rely heavily on financial contributions, earlier on dozens of overseas missionary societies and later, the local government and wealthy business people. This dependency syndrome has literally crippled the "prophetic role" of the church in Hong Kong. Since the late 1980s, there were plenty of cases showing the institutional church leaders tried to suppress individual critics within the church.

The main enabling force of "decolonization" or "democratization" came from the social activities in the 1970s. They have contributed much in promoting Hong Kong as a more open society. Now, the leading figures have been elected to the Legislative Council. Fourteen of them are members of the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK) - the first political party in Hong Kong. With their presence in the Legislative Council, the government will be forced to be more accountable to the people of Hong Kong especially in the areas of the improvement of the livelihood of the masses and the safeguarding of their basic human rights. The UDHK will continue to fight for a fully democratic and representative legislature, and a more responsible executive.

The UDHK and the many other small political groups will remain an important force for Hong Kong's political, social as well as economic development. But with very limited resources, they will confine their work in "advocacy". Research and education are the two crucial tasks other concerned groups need to take up. Realizing these urgent and unmet needs, 120 leading Christians in Hong Kong founded Hong

 

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Kong Christian Institute (HKCI) in September 1988. With a high calibre staff of six and a dedicated string of volunteer theologians, pastors and professionals. HKCI engages in research, education and publication. We concentrate on the following four areas:

a.†† To forge a practical social vision in Hong Kong. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Hong Kong lacks overall direction. Most people live by an utmost self-centered quasi-like philosophy. Education (expanding rapidly, by 1995 Hong Kong will have 11 years of compulsory education; and the degree students take doubled) serves no purpose other than to help our youngsters to climb the social ladder. A sociologist predicted because of the added 1997 impact, Hong Kong society may be disintegrated before the end of this century.

b. A democratic culture is essential. This should include at least a fully democratic and representative government; an open and free social atmosphere as well as a sense of belonging and responsibility among all citizens. Democratic conscientization is absolutely essential.

c. The church should once again act as a social conscience. But first it needs to refocus its directions and assume a servanthood as well as prophetic roles towards the entire society. Its life, like worship and evangelism, needs to be completely overhauled.

d. Radical re-education needs to take place in all congregations. Christians need to be encouraged especially to think and to put their faith into practice.

 

The International Support

 

Strictly in economic terms, Hong Kong is vital to China. China depends heavily on Hong Kong's technological transfer and capital input. Increasingly, Hong Kong has also become a key player in the economic growth in the Pacific-Rim which in turn is crucial to Asia.

Many purport that Hong Kong people have pulled off an economic miracle in just forty years. Now, it is one of the world's most important trading centers. The per capita income of Hong Kong is one of the highest in Asia, only lower than Japan and Brunei. Certainly Hong Kong is far from a capitalist paradise, yet in many ways, it can serve as a model of development for Asia.

Furthermore, there are many countries in Asia which are multicultural, multi-racial and even with groups of people who had traversed in different paths: economically, politically and socially. But they have to find a way to coexist preferably on just terms, so that at least the rights and freedom of the minority group or groups will be safeguarded. Can the China-Hong Kong experiment, "One Country, Two Systems", be such a model of coexistence?

 

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In sum, the continuing development of Hong Kong is an important stimulus to China, to Asia and indeed the rest of the world. It therefore deserves all the support the international community can give.

There are countries like the U.S.A. which are attempting to legislate a Hong Kong policy in relationship to democracy and human rights. The former French Premier Jacques Chirac has proposed that the United Nations should monitor on Hong Kong's development. After all, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered at the United Nations in December 1984. This international treaty will last for fifty years until 2047. The United Nations, certainly, has a responsibility to oversee the implementation of the treaty in. full. All these suggestions are very helpful.

But in the final analysis, the quest for freedom and democracy lies in the struggle of the people. This is evidently so with the radical changes in Russia and in Eastern Europe. Hong Kong people need to be empowered. As Asians, you are emphatic on this Hong Kong struggle. You can support the Hong Kong people by explicitly expressing your solidarity with them.