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ASIA's Hope For Hong Kong
(From New York Time) July 3rd, 1997.
By ANDREW POLLACK
But as Asian neighbors observed the fireworks in Hong Kong on Monday
night, their thoughts were far from the issue that has preoccupied the
United States -- whether Communist China will crack down on civil
liberties in Hong Kong.
"That is not our priority," said Chang Chul Kyoon, deputy director
general for Asia-Pacific affairs in South Korea's Foreign Ministry. "As
far as Hong Kong is concerned, economics is the No. 1 issue for the
South Korea, which became democratic only in the last decade, knows what
it feels like to be pressed by Washington on human rights. And many
other Asian nations still have authoritarian governments.
The difference in the attitude toward the human-rights issue reflects
philosophical differences over economic development. While the United
States and Western Europe tend to believe that political freedom goes
hand in hand with capitalism, many governments in Asia, as exemplified
most by Singapore, believe that free-wheeling personal liberty is not
necessary for economic development and might even be inimical to it.
The Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, practically gloated over the
fact that Hong Kong had not already collapsed in the years leading up to
this week's return to Chinese rule.
"The British nation's surrogate mourners -- the Western media, human
rights lobbyists and crusading politicians in Washington and parts of
the European Union -- had intimated what they wished to see happen to
Hong Kong in the run-up to July 1, 1997," the newspaper said in an
editorial Tuesday. "An exodus of talent, the stock and property sectors
on their knees, civil unrest, hostile noises from Beijing."
But, the newspaper said, the Hong Kong stock market is at a record high,
property prices are soaring, and emigres are returning to a vibrant Hong
Kong from "sleepwalking" places like Australia and Canada. "And China
will no doubt again thwart the ill-wish of its detractors in the months
and years ahead," it said.
If there is concern in Asia about Hong Kong's future, it does not seem
to be so much about whether the press will remain free but about whether
Hong Kong and China will be a harder place in which to do business.
Optimists say they expect Hong Kong to remain a capitalist bastion and
to influence China to adopt more economic reforms.
"People say that Hong Kong might be China-ized, but on the contrary, we
expect that China will be Hong Kong-ized," said Takeshi Kondo, general
manager of the office of political and economic research at Itochu
Corp., a huge Japanese trading company with many investments in Hong
Kong and China.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the Japanese consumer electronics
giant known for its Panasonic brand, plans to expand its Hong Kong
operations to help manage the more than two dozen factories it has built
in China over the last decade, said Yukio Shotoku, a manager in charge
But many Japanese business executives apparently believe that Chinese
rule will make it more difficult to do business in Hong Kong, replacing
the rule of law established by the British with China's more arbitrary
In a poll of companies with Hong Kong operations taken by the Nihon
Keizai Shimbun, Japan's leading financial newspaper, 31 percent of the
Japanese companies thought Hong Kong's business environment would be
worse in five years than it is now, while 16 percent said it would be
better and 52 percent predicted it would be unchanged. That made the
Japanese companies as a whole more pessimistic than the U.S. and
European companies, only 18 percent of which thought the business
environment would worsen.
China has attracted huge outside investments because its 1.2 billion
people make it potentially the world's largest market. But it is no fun
to do business there, what with corruption, the emphasis on connections,
restrictions and tariffs, and the pressure to transfer one's technology
to a Chinese company in return for being allowed to set up shop.
Japanese automobile manufacturers, which raced into Southeast Asia and
now control nearly 90 percent of some markets in the region, have been
so wary about moving into China that they have fallen behind European
and American rivals there. And some companies that invested heavily in
China are having second thoughts as profits have proved elusive.
Direct investment in China from Japan fell 35 percent in the last fiscal
year, according to Japan's Ministry of Finance. Investment in Hong Kong
continued to rise, but that, too, could change, said Dr. C.H. Kwan, an
Asian economy specialist at the Nomura Research Institute in Tokyo.
"The recent trend is that many companies are losing interest in China,"
Kwan said. "If you lose interest in China, the importance of Hong Kong
"THERE WILL BE NO REAL DEMOCRACY IF WE CAN'T GURANTEE THE RIGHTS OF THE
MINORITY ETHNIC PEOPLE. ONLY UNDERSTANDING THEIR SUFFERING AND HELPING
THEM TO EXERCISE THEIR RIGHTS WILL ASSIST PREVENTING FROM THE
DISINTEGRATION AND THE SESESSION." "WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THEIR
STRENGTH, WE CAN'T TOPPLE THE SLORC AND BURMA WILL NEVER BE IN PEACE."
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