KONG FACES 1997: RECOLONIZATION OR DECOLONIZATION
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
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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
being† an 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
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.
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
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
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.