The New York Times, October 26, 1994

Enter The Dragon
By Martin C.M. Lee


When China takes over Hong Kong at midnight on June 30, 1997, its first official act will be to scrap our elected Legislative Council. This month Beijing announced the creation of a "temporary" legislature to pass Hong Kong's laws after the changeover. This unelected body, with no fixed term of office, will undoubtedly rubber-stamp all laws that Communist leadership wants.
There has been shockingly little international outrage over China's flouting of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which indicated that Hong Kong would retain its capitalist economy and that the people would govern themselves in all matters except defense and foreign affairs.
The United States, as the standard-bearer of world democracy, and England, our colonial ruler, should stand up tot he bullies from Beijing. One good start would be persuading the last Governor of the territory, Christopher Patten, to use his near-dictatorial powers to enact strong institutions of democracy and human rights protection.
Since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, it has become apparent that China has plans very different from the ones Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher signed 10 years ago. Each day brings a chilling new sign of what the future may hold: a muzzled press, a corrupted legal system, a loss of basic liberties and freedoms.
Beijing is also undermining our economic affairs. This month it canceled the construction of a much-needed container terminal because one of the contractors was Jardines Matheson Holdings, a British company that hadn't toed Beijing's anti-democratic line. China has also used any pretext to insert itself into the planning of our new $16.5 billion airport.
As Mr. Deng's health deteriorates, the uncertainty over who will replace him as the paramount leader has paralyzed decision-making in China. None of the Chinese elite can afford to look soft when dealing with Western leaders or human rights issues. In this power vacuum, Hong Kong provides the most convenient target for hard-line dogma. Thus dialogue on Hong Kong has ground to a halt.
China has done this in part to punish Governor Patten, who defied it by allowing an increase in the number of directly elected seats on the Legislative Council and lowering the voting age to 18 from 21. But Beijing's uncompromising policy notwithstanding, there are many things he must accomplish before the transfer of sovereignty.
Press freedom is under siege, with an increasing number of Hong Kong reporters being arrested in China. This summer a Chinese propaganda official threatened the owner of a new newspaper here for its critical coverage of China. The official, Huang Xinhua, declared that Hong Kong journalists should "be wise" and "act in line with the circumstances."
Mr. Patten could help by immediately repealing the Draconian colonial laws authorizing press censorship. These laws are largely unused but are still on the books, and Chinese leaders are eager to use them to stifle our media after the transfer.
Our legal system is also imperiled by China's threats to abolish our Bill of Rights and common-law system. Mr. Patten must shore up the legal system by creating the Court of Final Appeal, as described in the Joint Declaration. This tribunal would be similar to the U.S. Supreme Court; judges from the U.S. and other countries whose legal systems derive from Britainís would be invited to sit on the court as required.
Beijing's demonstrated lack of respect for human rights makes it imperative that Mr. Patten set up an independent Human Rights Commission, as has been strongly urged by Britain's House of Commons and numerous human rights groups. So far he has refused, saying that such a commission is unnecessary. Easy for him to say, as he will not be in Hong Kong after 1997.
The people of Hong Kong desperately need these institutions to preserve our freedoms. If China can be persuaded to accept them, well and good. If not, Mr. Patten must go ahead and create them, as he is empowered to do by British colonial law. If Beijing wishes to scrap Hong Kong's free society and democratic institutions after 1997, it should at least be forced to do so actively in full view of the international community, and not through the silent complicity of the colonial government.

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