- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.