COVER STORY: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
How to help democracy in Hong Kong
, September 6, 2003
To many Australians, Hong Kong is a distant reality, with little or no significance other than as a tourist destination.
The recent visit to Australia by Democratic Party leader, Martin Lee, highlighted the fact that the struggle currently underway between the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and its China-installed chief executive, Tung Chee Hwa, has great importance not just for Hong Kong, but indirectly for China, and ultimately, for all other countries in the region, including Australia.
Mr Tung, clearly acting with Beijing's approval, has attempted to insert a new Article 23 into Hong Kong's Basic Law, in a form which would severely curtail freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and effectively end the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.
Under this formula, China promised that China's one-party dictatorship would not be imposed on Hong Kong, and Hong Kong would remain autonomous in all matters except foreign affairs and defence for 50 years.
The draft Article 23 is legislation dealing with treason, sedition, secession, and subversion, and proposes a series of measures which seriously interfere with freedom of speech and association, the operation of the free press and the rule of law.Transformation
If adopted in its present form, it will end the possibility that Hong Kong will act as a model for a transformation of the mainland from being a one-party state to a pluralist society, leaving China as a totalitarian power with a vast and growing economy.
Such a power would be a danger not only to its neighbours in the region, but ultimately, to the rest of the world.
Until the early 1980s, China was a Stalinist communist dictatorship which was shackled by Marxist ideology. However in 1984, its paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, began a process of removing the dead hand of the Chinese Communist Party from control of the economy, encouraging foreign investment, and legalising a free enterprise economy in China.
The result was an explosion of growth, with China recording nearly 20 years of unbroken economic growth, and the emergence of a substantial middle class in the coastal provinces of China.
However, tentative steps at political reform were violently terminated by the Tiananmen Square massacre of university students and workers in Beijing in July 1989, when they called for the end of a one-party state. Since then, the Communist Party has ruthlessly suppressed all political dissent, while permitting the operation of a free-wheeling, capitalist-style economy.
So when the Chinese-installed leader of Hong Kong, Mr Tung, introduced Article 23 last year, it sent shock-waves through the 7.5 million-strong Hong Kong community, in which there is a strong democratic spirit.
Despite repeated attempts by pro-democracy advocates to deflect Mr Tung from enacting the law, he pressed on, with the strong public support of the Communist regime in Beijing.
The United States, the European Union, Britain, Australia and New Zealand all raised concerns about Article 23.
Their concerns were mirrored by the Asian Human Rights Commission, which is based in Hong Kong, saying "that the proposals, if they become law, will seriously threaten the freedoms of Hong Kong's people and the rule of law in Hong Kong." (May 9, 2003)
China ignored their concerns, saying they were improperly meddling in its internal affairs.
Ultimately, a mass demonstration - involving at least 500,000 people, but perhaps twice that number - was held in Hong Kong on July 1, only days before Article 23 was to be voted on by the HK Legislative Council.Support withdrawn
The protest unnerved Mr Tung's business ally, James Tien, who withdrew his support, prompting Mr Tung to "delay" the legislation, and causing another of Tung's allies, Regina Ip, to resign from her post as Secretary for Security in the Hong Kong administration.
However, Mr Tung remains committed to reintroducing similar legislation in the future.
On August 21, despite Chinese Government protests, the Australian Senate carried a strong resolution moved by SA Democrat Senator, Natasha Stott Despoja, expressing its concern over the draft legislation, welcoming the decision by Mr Tung to modify it in response to widespread criticism, but stating that "further amendments and clarifications are necessary" to the legislation.
It is important that the Australian Government, in concert with others democratic nations which have already expressed their concerns to China over this issue, should now forge an international coalition for democracy in Hong Kong.
Such a coalition would follow the formation of the coalition against terrorism, established after the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001.
The long-term significance of recent events in Hong Kong today is arguably as great as that of terrorism, and the consequence of the defeat of pro-democracy forces there are arguably greater. This is a clear opportunity for Australia to give a lead to other countries.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council