sábado, novembro 17, 2007

277) Hong Kong: dez anos apos a retrocessao à China

Hong Kong: One country, no democracy
The Economist, Jun 28th 2007

If only Hong Kong were allowed to show China the way politically as it has economically

WHEN China took back sovereignty over Hong Kong ten years ago, it promised to preserve its unique “way of life”. The imaginative formula for doing this had two parts. The first was “one country, two systems”—ie, Hong Kong would still be capitalist, while China would pretend, ever less convincingly, to be socialist. The other was “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”. As China's leaders descend on Hong Kong this weekend for tenth-anniversary fireworks and self-congratulation, the place is booming and has changed far less in ten years than has almost any other city in China (see our special report). Its capitalist system is largely intact. But on its commitment to let Hong Kong people run Hong Kong, China has flouted its promise of autonomy in everything apart from foreign affairs and defence. This is a potential disaster for Hong Kong, and a missed opportunity for China.

China has ensured that elections to Hong Kong's legislature, and those for the “chief executive”—the successor to Britain's colonial governors—are elaborately rigged in favour of “pro-China” candidates. Pointing to Hong Kong's success as an undemocratic British colony, and its continued success as a slightly less undemocratic “special administrative region” of China, the Communist Party can argue that this shows it was right to deny Hong Kong full democracy. That is nonsense.

It is true that, to its shame, Britain never bestowed democracy on Hong Kong. But it did endow it with strong institutions such as an independent judiciary and a free press. They are crucial to Hong Kong's standing as a truly global city. They have survived the past ten years better than many feared. But both have suffered some erosion. Worse is to come unless Hong Kong has a government with the legitimacy to defend them. And that requires a proper democratic mandate.

Curiously, many of those businessmen in Hong Kong who used to argue that full democracy would serve only to destabilise the place and make China cross have become converts to democracy, despite the flourishing economy. They realise that the present constitutional muddle simply does not work: the lack of democratic legitimacy leads to a constant search for an elusive consensus and indecisive government.
The Hong Kong model

There is another reason why democracy in Hong Kong should be welcomed by the government in Beijing: Hong Kong could serve as a laboratory for political change on the mainland, as it earlier served as an economic model.

A crucial element of the reforms unleashed in China by Deng Xiaoping nearly 30 years ago was the recognition that Hong Kong had much to offer China. He saw how much its entrepreneurial people and their capital could do for the mainland; and he copied some of its economic freedoms. Often judged the world's freest economy, Hong Kong is not a bad model. The Pearl River Delta—Hong Kong's hinterland—became China's fastest-growing region.

Hong Kong could now play a similar role in politics, where the Communist Party is again toying with the idea of reform (see article). China remains a viciously repressive dictatorship, where any weakness of the central government is compensated by the even more arbitrary exercise of power by local authorities. But people are immeasurably freer now than they were 30 years ago.

Every year sees tens of thousands of protests—many by peasants over official land grabs. But the new property-owning, shareholding middle classes are also restive. None of this, so far, amounts to a challenge to Communist Party rule. But it does suggest that the instability the party fears may come. Hong Kong would be a good place to try an alternative way of dealing with dissent. On Sunday, after the fireworks have fizzled and China's and Hong Kong's leaders have told each other how well they are doing, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers will take to the streets to demand their democratic rights. It is fair to predict that they will do so without violence and with considerable good humour. They should be cheered on by everybody who wishes China well.

Hong Kong: The resilience of freedom
The Economist, Jun 28th 2007

After ten years of Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong's economy is thriving. But politics, says Simon Long (interviewed here), remains a one-horse race

THE torrential rain that fell on Britain's end-of-empire parade on the night of June 30th 1997 conjured up apocalyptic visions of the future of Hong Kong. Prince Charles bequeathed a sodden city to Jiang Zemin, China's president, and left on board his yacht with Chris (now Lord) Patten, the last British governor. That very night the city's new masters swore in a new “provisional” legislature appointed to replace one elected under British rule. Television cameramen flocked to the territory's borders with China to film the arrival of the People's Liberation Army. It proved to be almost the last chance to see those soldiers in Hong Kong: they disappeared into their barracks. There were no round-ups of degenerates, dissidents or democrats, and no newspaper closures.

It is tempting to argue that Hong Kong has changed China more than the other way round, as this newspaper and others forecast in 1997. Certainly China has changed the more, though Hong Kong's role in this—compared with, for example, the dynamic momentum of China's internal reforms, and the country's accession to the World Trade Organisation—is debatable. Yet as Hong Kong and China celebrate the tenth anniversary of their reunion, their self-congratulation seems justified. An experiment without historic precedent, the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty while keeping its unique way of life, has come off—so far.

What has not changed in the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” (SAR) of China is more obvious than what has. The city streets still hum to the rhythm of commerce. The skyline remains one of the glories of urban ambition. Even the grumbles are unchanged. The harbour—the reason this “barren rock” became a metropolis—continues to shrink as Hong Kong island reverts to the mainland through reclamation.

The red flag of China flutters over Government House, Lord Patten's former home, and government offices are adorned with China's state insignia. But the street names still celebrate former colonial governors—Des Voeux, Robinson, Nathan, Bonham (though, for the foreseeable future, a Patten Boulevard seems unlikely). And servants of the colonial regime still play important roles under the new dispensation. Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive, the successor to the governor, was formerly a senior member of Lord Patten's administration.

Drastic changes, however, were never likely. The 1997 handover was part of a process rather than a life-changing event. The largest part of Hong Kong's land area, the New Territories, had been Britain's under a 99-year lease granted in 1898. China never recognised that agreement, nor indeed the treaties ceding Hong Kong island and Kowloon in perpetuity. But the expiry of the lease presented practical difficulties, such as over land tenure, so China agreed to negotiations with Britain that led to the two countries' 1984 “Joint Declaration”, confirming Hong Kong's reversion to China at the end of the lease.

Unusually, then, the change of sovereignty was preceded by a long planning period. Unprecedentedly, China also agreed that the transfer would happen on the basis of “one country, two systems”. Until 2047 Hong Kong would keep its own economic and political system and enjoy autonomy in everything except foreign affairs, defence and national security. This was an extraordinary concession for a proud, resurgent nation. It reflected the vision of Deng Xiaoping, who was in the process of opening China up from the autarkic blind alley of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. No Chinese leader since has enjoyed the popularity of Deng in those early years. Many in Hong Kong say that the anniversary the island should be celebrating is not this year's but the one coming up in December next year: the 30th anniversary of the Communist Party plenum that marked the Deng restoration.

Even so, there were reasonable doubts about whether “one country, two systems” could work. The whole point of Hong Kong, both for the people living there and the foreigners doing business with it, was that it was not quite China. It was a place of refugees, “a Chinese colony that happen[ed] to be run by Britain”, according to its historian, Frank Welsh. By 1997 it had become a prosperous, service-oriented economy and a sophisticated, cosmopolitan society. China was a poor agricultural nation in the throes of the world's fastest industrial revolution.

Hong Kong had been a colony with only limited self-rule. But Lord Patten and others like to point to the observation of the late Samuel Finer, a famous historian of government, that Hong Kong's was a unique political system: undemocratic but free. China was, and remains, undemocratic and unfree. Optimism in the late 1980s that its opening-up might include political liberalisation was crushed by the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing on June 3rd-4th 1989. For a generation in Hong Kong, that was a defining moment. But 18 years have passed, and for today's bright, otherwise well-informed and sophisticated 17-year-olds mention of it rings only distant bells.

That is not surprising. The biggest challenges Hong Kong has faced in those 17-year-olds' lifetime have stemmed not from Chinese repression but from Asia's 1997 financial crisis, the bursting of the dotcom bubble, and epidemics of bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Hong Kong weathered those storms. The economy has just enjoyed its best three years for two decades. As open and free as any in the world, it has proved its flexibility and resilience.

This report will argue that, with some important lapses, China has kept its promises, and “one country, two systems” is working better than many expected. But its continued success is jeopardised by the failure to tackle the big unresolved issue left at the handover: the establishment of an accountable government checked and balanced by a representative legislature. Hong Kong will never sit comfortably in China as long as its politics is a battle between two camps, one labelled “pro-Beijing” and the other “pro-democracy”.

To the relief of Britain and China, Hong Kong has been largely absent from world headlines in the past turbulent decade. But it has not been without its drama. Besides the unforeseen financial and health crises, there was, in effect, a mass uprising four years ago, in protest at an “anti-subversion law” that China wanted Hong Kong's government to introduce. Seeing their civil liberties threatened, Hong Kong's people took to the streets and won a deferral of the law. Their political freedoms, too, are proving resilient.

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