Will Hong Kong remain free?

This article is pessimistic.

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1041299771820934073,00.html?mod=opinion (requires paid registration)

I’m pessimistic too. Although it will be foolish for China to undermine the economic success of Hong Kong, bureaucratic creep will make it into just another city – no different from Shanghai.

The problem is that the government in Beijing sees Hong Kong’s wealth as a resource to be harvested rather than a process to be promoted.

I’ll also still amazed at the pass given to Margaret Thatcher for her actions in Hong Kong. From what I’ve heard her administration basically traded away the freedom of an entire city for access to the Chinese marketplace. Yet conservatives hail her as a heroine.

I am not sure what you want to debate but I will note that China is making great strides in the direction of implementing the Rule of Law and formal freedoms. It has a way to go but the direction is very clear.

Sadly the USA has been moving in the opposite direction for the last year so, I feel much more optimistic about China than I do about the USA.

For a really interesting view on Hong Kong you guys should read Hemlock’s Diary - http://www.geocities.com/hkhemlock - it is an absolutely brilliant read.

Martin Lee? Martin Lee??!! ::ROTFL:: He is one of the biggest hypocrites here. He talks out from both sides of his mouths.

december, you’re also making the assumption that Hong Kong was ever free in the first place. Now, we’re talking degrees here, maybe even several magnitudes worth, but Hong Kong was never “free” under the British. It was a colony.

Anyhoo, do you have a point or a debate December?

It was never democratic, but that’s not the same thing. You can live in a colony with no semblance of responsible gorenment, and still be free to go where you want, believe what you want, express any views you want, meet who you want, form organisations, lobby, enforce the law against the government and its agents and expect the police and the courts to do so, etc. etc, etc.

(And conversely, you can live in a democracy and have few or none of these rights. But that’s OT.)

At the time of the handover, PRC said that they would leave the people Hong Kong with more-or-less similar freedoms to what they had. These freedoms included a democratically elected local government and enormous economic freedom. In fact, Hong Kong had considerably greater economic freedom than the US. We conservatives and libertarian types like to credit this economic freedom for Honk Kong’s economic success.

My position in this debate is that PRC will not succeed in letting HK citizens retain their freedom. I predict that little by little PRC bureaucrats wil nibble away this freedom until HK is no different from Shanghai.

I invite opposoing opinions.

Maybe by then Shanghai will be as free or more as New York. China is opening up very fast. Get back to me in 50 years and we can talk about it and see what happened.

The New Territories, the chunk of Hong Kong on the mainland, was obtained by GB in 1898 - on a 99-year lease. The New Territories are crucial to the viability of HK, in particular as the source of most of HK’s drinking water. The PRC, which has long been bent on a “reunification” programme, made it very clear that they were not going to renew the lease nor provide replacement water to HK unless HK returned to China.

So Maggie had no choice.


december: We conservatives and libertarian types like to credit this economic freedom for [Hong] Kong’s economic success.

Well, that kind of sweeps under the rug the significant role the Hong Kong government has played in mitigating some of the burdens of the inequalities caused by economic “laissez-faire”. Moreover, “economic success”, of course, can be measured in a number of different ways; though HK has lots of money and lots of rich people, it also has a lot of poverty, particularly among the elderly.

If a little less “economic freedom” meant that more of Hong Kong’s working-class women could afford to retire when they hit 80 or so and still have enough money to eat properly without having to scavenge cardboard boxes for 9 or 10 hours a day to get some extra cash, I’d say the trade-off might be worth it. Sadly, however, it looks from the cited article as though Beijing is not that interested in compensating for HK’s losses in political freedom (for everyone but the labour unions, that is) with greater prosperity for the population as a whole.

I was about to refer everyone in all modesty to my diary, but istara kindly beat me to it. My reading of Martin Lee, FWIW…


The anti-subversion laws are required under Article 23 of HK’s constitution, a demand of Beijing’s after HK marched in protest against the Tiananmen Sq killings in 1989. We still don’t know exactly what the law will say. It will replace existing laws, some of which are draconian but never used.

My personal hunches:

  • relax
  • the panic over these laws is partly being overplayed by various people on purpose, just to ensure the HK govt listens.
  • to the extent that the alarm reflects real fears, it is partly the result of the HK govt’s inept handling of the public consultation, rather than an indication that the govt has a genuine intention to implement draconian laws.
  • to the extent the above 2 are not the case, we might have a problem. The main theoretical danger is that people will censor themselves if the law is drafted badly. This govermnent is dumb rather than malicious, but a lot of people will be watching. I wouldn’t worry.

The crux of the matter is that the govt has done a deal (they deny it) with Beijing to implement fairly feeble laws (by Beijing standards) by mid-2003. Someone stupidly promised to get it through by then. By refusing to allow more detailed public consultation (which would delay things and might piss off the emperor), the govt gives the impression that it’s scheming when in fact it’s just panicking.

On a more general note, HK has far and away the greatest, optimum combination of freedom of expression and rule of law of any Chinese community. Taiwan has freedom but is corrupt. Singapore is the other way round. The Mainland has the worst of both.


I sure would like to disagree with that, but I’ve known too many bureaucrats.

Hong Kong’s freedom is entirely based on Beijing’s ability to learn that you don’t get milk by threatening the cow.

This is not a lesson they have proven particularly apt with.

It’s just a case of a few people shouting the same thing repeatedly, just louder every time.

That’s a pet project of local conspiracy theorists.

Hong Kong has never had a democratically elected local government. Never. Thank the British for that.

There are plenty of other threads. Long story short, under the British the HK economy was hardly free. Banking, property, airline, retail, insurance and a host of other key sectors of the economy were either monopolies or oligopolies.

HK enjoyed what it enjoyed prior to 1997. However, let’s lot paint it as a paradise of capitalism and democracy, 'cause it certainly was not. Hell, I’d even grant that HK was better off 6 years ago, but that had a lot more to do with economic cycles rather than who the overlords were.


I am an American citizen living in China so I can give some prospective.

The People’s Republic of China is a communist country with a capitalist economy. There is no freedom of speech, the press and the media is censored to the point of ridiculousness, religion is frowned upon (but is getting better), and the general idea that the good of all is better than the good of the individual. Mao is revered here like George Washington is in America.

But as I stated, capitalism is everywhere here and is supported and encouraged by the government to provide jobs and labor for the population. Most of the urban capitalism is of small business. China is trying to phase out most state owned industries, because they are not profitable at all. Lastly, the time between 1949-1980 was the “era of the planned economy”. Now, mainly the state is telling the people to get off their asses and make a buck.

Who supports the Communist party of China? The upper classes and the capitalists do! They do this because they realize that the party and the government keeps everything on a short leash, and they provide protection from the starving masses. If the Communists fall, there might be chaos, because the country has about 800 million poor and impoverished people. Scary.

OK, I have been to Hong Kong (HK) but only at the airport. HK is a territory of China, and they still use their own currency (The Hong Kong Dollar). The HK government still uses coins with the queen on them and the people still drive on the left. The Fulan Gong has legal status here. If someone wants to fly from Mainland China to Taiwan, or get a visa to Taiwan (China as well as the USA and the UN state Taiwan is a part of China) you must go through HK. I have a single exit visa which means I can leave China once without fees for one year, but the Chinese government considers HK a “foreign” destination. I ask my students if they have ever been outside of China and they state that they have been to HK. Hee HEE.

Beijing picks the local government of HK, and supposedly the HK people dislike China. Besides the HK people and the Chinese speak differnent languages (HKs speak Cantonese, Mainlanders speak Mandarin also known as Putonghua). But I don’t believe the Mainland will ever come down hard of HK, simply because there is too much money to be made.



Good point, Chinaguy. Were the Irish ever free under British rule? How about the Americans?

Now that the British have no one to tyrannize besides their own people, we tend to forget how they treated their colonies.

However, I tend to think that HK was fairly leniently governed under the British, and they did have a measure of prosperity and artistic freedom that Beijing may not be willing or able to sustain.


Harumph. I never felt particularly tyrannized when I lived there.

To clarify, I think the OP would be better phrased “Will Hong Kong retain the partial freedoms it had under the British?

jjimm, well worded. Part of the issue is certainly economic, and the very special cycle in the 80’s and 90’s peaked right about 1 July 1997. Well, the seeds of the bust were there long before 1997 but were blithely ignored.

I’m with Hemlock though, this seems to me a tempest in a teacup and if the economy were booming it would go largely unnoticed.

“No different than Shanghai” is a complement rather than a sneer.

China Guy, can you expand on that POV? My impression was the people of HK had a great deal more freedom than the people of Shanghai. E.g.

– freedom of religion
– freedom of the press
– considerable democratic control of issues, via their elected Council
– freedom of speech
– enormous economic freedom in HK vs. very little in Shanghai

Is this wrong?