- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

According to the Communist government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), everything is great in the nation’s Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. In a letter to the editor printed nearby on this page, a Chinese embassy spokesman argues that Hong Kongers “are now enjoying unprecedented democratic rights” and that the business climate is protected by Beijing “maintaining social stability.” Over the past year, however, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers have hit the streets to protest precisely how the central government maintains stability — which is by stifling democracy. It is only a matter of time before micromanagement from the mainland harms Hong Kong’s future, especially its vibrant economy.

In January, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong warned that obstructing political reform could undermine the business center’s position. Even slight reservation from AmCham is significant because American businessmen in China historically have been hesitant to a fault to criticize the government. The American chamber, which represents more than 2,300 U.S. enterprises, is the largest business chamber in Hong Kong. PRC spokesmen frequently defend mainland policies by noting that the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal rate Hong Kong as the freest economy in the world — but both institutions regularly publish criticisms of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong. It is also relevant that many “independent” voices that champion Hong Kong do major fundraising there.

The worry is that Beijing leaders are trying to make Hong Kong more like the Communist mainland rather than the other way around. Xinhua, an official government news agency, last month released the following threat by the late Deng Xiaoping: “If [Hong Kongers] should turn their words into action, trying to convert Hong Kong into a base of opposition to the mainland under the pretext of democracy? Then we would have no choice but to intervene.” That intervention is underway. On Sunday, Xinhua officially labeled the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China as an unpatriotic organization. This year, Chinese officials have arrested Hong Kong residents — some of them British subjects — involved in the democratic movement and charged them with espionage.

There are two possible futures for Hong Kong. One is open and forward-looking, with government representatives freely picked by the people. The other Hong Kong takes marching orders from Communist Party overlords in Beijing, who appoint the region’s leaders and scramble to keep a lid on popular opposition to communism. Obviously international businesses would prefer to work in a free, democratic Hong Kong. Beijing insists that its intervention is necessary to “maintain social stability.” What the Communists ignore is that society will never be stable so long as the vast majority of the people do not support the government.

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