In my recent travels and interviews, many of the same themes and questions are raised. Below I answer some frequently asked questions about Hong Kong, for a better understanding of recent developments in Hong Kong. -- Martin Lee
Q. How have things changed in Hong Kong since the transfer of sovereignty to China on July 1?
A. Fortunately, this period has seen no revolutionary changes to Hong Kong. Although China's first act of sovereignty was to demolish all elected institutions in Hong Kong, Beijing's leadership has not carried out many of their worst threats to press freedom and the rule of law. However, you could say we are instead undergoing evolutionary changes to the freedoms and institutions that distinguish Hong Kong from China. And although Hong Kong people can still exercise most of our freedoms, we must do so under a dark cloud of non-representative and absolutist government. Think of it like this: the edifice is still standing -- but there are cracks in the foundation.
Q. Is Hong Kong still a free international city?
A. Yes, in fact, it is Hong Kong citizens' robust defense of liberty which has marked the first year of Hong Kong as part of China. Hong Kong journalists have by and large continued to write the truth in their news reports, the public has insisted on its right to continue demonstrating, and we elected representatives have maintained our conviction that Hong Kong must have the freely elected legislature and freedoms China solemnly promised in the 1984 Joint Declaration.
Q. Are Chinese officials now running Hong Kong?
A. On the positive side, what has not happened, despite China's long standing threats, is overt interference by Beijing in Hong Kong's internal affairs -- so far as we can tell. This can be attributed to the absolute control exercised by Beijing's appointees in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive C. H. Tung and the appointed Provisional Legislature. Thus, China's Central Government has little need to directly intervene in Hong Kong as their proxies here are adept at anticipating Beijing's wishes. A second reason for non-interference from Beijing is certainly the world spotlight and the stated expectations of world leaders that Chinese leaders would adhere to the terms of the Joint Declaration.
Q. How well has Hong Kong survived the Asian Financial Crisis?
A. As a regional financial centre, Hong Kong has been very much affected by the economic crisis in the whole Asian region. But in Indonesia, Thailand and in South Korea, the crisis' source was not only economic, but political: featuring a non-democratic system, investors who relied on cronyism instead of market forces, and a lack of transparency, accountability and effective financial controls.
The political roots of the Asian crisis mean that unless there is substantial political reform as well as economic restructuring, it is likely to take Asia much longer to recuperate. The financial chaos carries a strong warning for Hong Kong as well: the countries in the region that have been hardest hit by the financial and currency crisis are those that have been least democratic. Hong Kong will certainly need to institute a democratic and accountable government to weather future financial storms.
Q. It is widely said that Hong Kong people don't care about democracy and human rights -- that they only want to make money. Do Hong Kong people really care about democracy?
A. Hong Kong people are by and large here because of freedom. Over 80% of us are the children or grandchildren of those who fled China's periodic political chaos, and few people in the world understand and treasure liberty as Hong Kong people do. In every election since 1990, Hong Kong people have overwhelmingly voted for candidates who would fight for democracy and defend Hong Kong's freedoms, even in the face of China's strong opposition. Hong Kong people -- rich and poor alike -- value our freedoms and know that the best way to protect them is to have a legislature and government elected by Hong Kong citizens and accountable to them.
Q. So why aren't more people in Hong Kong's streets protesting in support of democracy?
A. In May 1989, on two successive Sundays, over one million citizens demonstrated in Hong Kong's narrow streets in support of the student movement in Tiananmen Square. But after the crackdown, Hong Kong people -- most of whom do not have and cannot access foreign passports to leave -- realised what the risk in asking for that which they believe Beijing will punish. More recent threats from Chinese leaders include Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen's pledge not to permit the peaceful annual Tiananmen Square memorials and proposed new laws to radically restrict lawful political protests and demonstrations. Still, at least 55,000 Hong Kong citizens attended the June 4th, 1997 commemoration in Victoria Park.
Q. Singapore prospers, despite the government's restrictions of press and other freedoms. So if freedoms are taken away, what's wrong with Hong Kong becoming more like Singapore?
A. Hong Kong has long been one of Asia's most free societies, with political as well as economic freedom. Hong Kong's entrepreneurs, journalists and artists alike benefit from the freedoms here. It is a fallacy that political freedom can be taken away and leave the economic system unaffected. Singapore has evolved into the society it is today and its citizens have never had many of the liberties enjoyed by Hong Kong people, such as rule of law and free elections. Hong Kong people will not willingly give those freedoms up.
Q. The stock and property markets were soaring before the handover. Doesn't that mean that there is little or no concern about the future?
A. Stock markets are short term. What the Democrats are working for is Hong Kong's long-term economic prosperity. To guarantee that, we must preserve the rule of law. Without the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press and an elected legislature to pass good laws, Hong Kong's free market will be undermined. Hong Kong's property market is virtually guaranteed to flourish because of the severely limited supply of land. Both property and stock markets are small and interlinked. And recently, a senior Beijing official (in a moment of misplaced candour) even pledged China will prop up the markets in the event of a crash (perhaps not understanding that this constitutes interference in Hong Kong's free market).
Q. But don't tycoons and business leaders here trumpet their confidence in the future?
A. Many of these tycoons have cultivated close ties to Beijing, have accepted political appointments and benefit from the awarding of contracts and political favours from Chinese leaders. But actions speak louder than words: those business leaders who publicly profess confidence have private doubts. Many have acquired foreign passports and today, according to the Securities and Futures Commission, over 65% of the companies listed on Hong Kong's stock exchange have moved their legal domicile out of Hong Kong to other jurisdictions where access to the Privy Council continues.

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