Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Free Hong Kong?

Hong Kong skyline

In college, I subscribed to the idealist school of foreign policy. After I graduated, however, my preparation for a debate on U.S.-Sino relations vis-a-vis Taiwan, made me realize the complexity of international relations, and caused me to change my view. To wit:

[E]ven if China annexed Taiwan tomorrow, reunification would not spell disaster. As various Chinese officials have said, a reunified Taiwan would enjoy even greater autonomy than Hong Kong. In theory, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. In practice, Hong Kong retains its own legal system, currency and customs. A major international center of finance and trade, it is also an economic dynamo. For these reasons, Taiwan’s reunification would occur more in name than in substance. It would amount to new letterhead on a government memo, not serfdom.

Though he challenges this "one-country-two systems" view, Gerald Baker ends up bolstering it. Here's the crux from his article in the current issue of the Weekly Standard:

The results from ten years of Chinese control have been mixed. Hong Kong is distinctively freer than anywhere else in China. But it feels as though it is on a long leash. The basic civil rights China promised to maintain look robust enough. Freedom of religion is an obvious reality in the territory, attested to by the fact that the chief executive, or governor, Donald Tsang, is a devout Catholic who attends mass daily. The rule of law—essential to Hong Kong's efficiently capitalist way of life—has also been maintained. The government has been successfully challenged in court on a number of matters by Hong Kong's fiercely independent judiciary.

The right of assembly is also a practical reality. In June, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people gathered as they have every year for the last 18 years to denounce China's human rights record.

More important, it was this type of direct democracy that produced perhaps the most significant political event in Hong Kong in the last five years. In 2003, with the former colony suffering heavily from the SARS crisis, and the government trying to create aggressive new security laws, a half million people marched through the streets to demand the right to vote and to protest a bumbling pro-Beijing administration. They forced not only the withdrawal of the legislation but also in the end the removal of the territory's pro-Beijing chief executive.