The rule of law will not survive in Hong Kong when it returns to Chinese sovereignty next year. Steve Vines blames the colony's reactionary Chinese eliteby Steve Vines / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
When things go wrong-as they certainly will, sometime after Hong Kong returns to Chinese sovereignty next year-there will be an attempt to assign blame. The suspects most likely to be held responsible for the coming debacle-the dismantling of representative government, the demise of the legal system and the spread of corruption-are the British and the Chinese governments. The first for sins of omission; the latter for sins of commission.
There is no shortage of evidence against these culprits. But there is another suspect unlikely to be questioned at all. That suspect is the people of Hong Kong, more specifically the motley crew of civil servants and businessmen known as “the community’s leaders.”
With the exception of a small group of political activists, most of those claiming to speak on behalf of the people of Hong Kong are, in fact, trying to second-guess what their masters wish to hear. They have been doing so for a long time.
The only occasions on which the community’s leaders have broken with their rulers was when those rulers attempted social reform. It happened when Governor John Pope Hennessy tried to introduce greater rights for Chinese people in the 1870s, prompting outrage from British businessmen. After the restoration of British rule follo-wing the second world war occupation of Hong Kong by Japan, there were demands for the introduction of democracy. The returning governor, Mark Young, became convinced that reform was needed, but failed to take account of the resistance which was mounted by both British and Chinese business leaders. They sought to thwart the advance of democracy by appealing directly to Whitehall.
Today, many community leaders are open autocrats. Ronald Li, former chairman of the stock exchange, summed up the feelings of many of his fellow businessmen by saying: “Don’t talk to me about democracy; that’s a word that should be obliterated from the dictionary.”
These misgivings about democracy reflect a genuine fear of what it might entail. They have been well articulated by James Tien, a legislator and tycoon, who says that too much democracy leads to a “free lunch syndrome” in which the have-nots use elected institutions to claw back wealth from the haves.
Hong Kong’s autocrats also explain that democracy is not appropriate for a Chinese society with its Confucian values stressing obedience and order. It is a view enthusiastically endorsed by the Chinese Communist party. (In neighbouring Taiwan, a thoroughly…