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Old May 14th, 2007, 01:48 AM   #1
Kaitak747
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Hong Kong, hail the lone dissenter

Hong Kong, hail the lone dissenter

By Alex Ortolani
Published May 8, 2007


HONG KONG -- During a recent weekend on the banks of Victoria Harbor, a lone crooner strummed an electric guitar and belted out a song in Cantonese. He was not singing for loose change, but in protest. Specifically, he was lambasting the government's plan to dismantle the historic relic he stood on, Queen's Pier, without adequate public consultation.

On July 1, Hong Kong will mark the 10-year anniversary of its hand-over from the United Kingdom to China, and the territory has much to celebrate.


Since 1997, it has survived the Asian financial crisis, SARS and bird flu scares. More recently, the economy has been booming. Crucial sectors, such as financial services, real estate, tourism and shipping are strong in the face of increasing challenges from rival cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. Unemployment is just 4.4 percent, and bilateral trade with mainland China has more than doubled.

But as someone who lived in Hong Kong and Beijing for more than two years and worked in both Western and Asian media, I believe that weekend on Victoria Harbor showcased a much more important reason for Hong Kong to celebrate the hand-over: the lone protester belting out his song.

That seemingly small act of personal will, played out here on a daily basis in various forms, is what separates Hong Kong from the mainland, let alone many other countries in the region. It is what will allow it to succeed long beyond rosy economic times and a bullish stock market.

To see why this is so, we need to look at how the hand-over affected this financial center with a population smaller than the Chicago area, but a gross domestic product among the world's top 40.

On the surface, compared with massive changes of all kinds in mainland China, Hong Kong looks surprisingly similar from a decade ago. Finance and export are still the motors of the economy. Luxury hotels sit side-by-side with blocks of crumbling apartment buildings. Chinese families control the major businesses, and Western firms use the city as a launching pad for Asia. The bars are full of expatriates and wealthy Chinese; the 24-hour noodle shops are packed with locals.

Take a closer look, however, and you begin to see Beijing's shadow.

Most obviously, China has a firm hand in Hong Kong's government. It pads the legislative council, the territory's equivalent of Congress, with a bloc of pro-Beijing constituents. It has continually pushed forward a date for the people to elect their own leader, which doesn't look likely until 2017.

The media sector has also faced pressure. Some of it is editorial, as Beijing officials consistently call for positive reports on the success of "one country, two systems." Some is commercial, because any media outlet wanting to tap the mainland's huge population must abide by its rules of censorship.

Last year, Beijing crossed another line when it publicly interfered with Hong Kong's famously free markets. When a locally owned telecommunications firm put itself up for sale to foreign owners,

Beijing's interests blocked the deal and kept the company in Chinese hands.

In the face of these

encroachments, it's more important than ever for Hong Kong to celebrate its ability to maintain independence.

To note a few examples: People here still have freedom of movement from one country to another. They are free to criticize their government in public, private and in print. Communist Party membership does not play a role in career progress. No one is likely to be locked up for practicing a certain religion or following a particular ideology. Corruption is frequently monitored and checked by the rule of law.

In the mainland, all of these basic human rights are up for grabs depending on who you are and in which part of the country you live.

Take our crooner. Let's make him a Beijing resident protesting in Tiananmen Square. Located here, he might choose to address the recent displacement of thousands of people from the city's center without equal compensation for the 2008 Olympics. If he did so, he wouldn't last one Hong Kong minute before plainclothes cops drag him away.

In this vein, perhaps the real date we should look toward is 2047, the year, as stipulated by Hong Kong's constitution, that the "one country, two systems" policy will officially end and Hong Kong will fully integrate with the mainland.

On this date, will Hong Kong look more like the mainland now, with a partially free

public controlled through fear of repression? Or will the mainland look more like Hong Kong? A place that, while not perfect, allows its citizens to make their own choices and have input in the government and laws that exist for their benefit.

On July 1, Hong Kong must go beyond celebrating mere survival. It should cheer for that lone protester, whatever his message.
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Old May 14th, 2007, 08:26 AM   #2
superchan7
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US govt. didn't allow CNOOC to buy up Unocal, same idea. There's no such thing as a "completely free" society and economy as governments constantly fear security threats. I think a lot of Beijing "intervention" is overblown. Using the same logic, Britain probably did the same things back in the colonial era.
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Old May 14th, 2007, 03:02 PM   #3
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When Lenovo bought out IBM, it's a big thing.
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