March 26th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: EDITORIAL: Indonesian President in Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Behind the skills shortage in the not-so-clever country

FOREIGN TRADE: The perils of bilateral trade agreements

SCHOOLS: Teacher unions enforcing the gender agenda

SPECIAL FEATURE: Murder and insurrection: Lance Sharkey in Singapore

BIOETHICS: UN backs ban on human cloning

OPINION: Cutting the abortion rate - the political options

THINKERS: Philosopher of greed: Ayn Rand

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Dicing with our future / China rampant / Double standards?

INTERNATIONAL LAW: Behind the Timor Sea Treaty dispute

HONG KONG: China's man in Hong Kong quits

ASIA: Australia has role in great power contest

PAKISTAN: What role should Islam play in Pakistan?

Unemployment only five per cent? (letter)

How can we save our schools? (letter)

Urban riots a 'wake-up call' (letter)

BOOKS: FEWER: How the new demography of depopulation will shape our future

BOOKS: NELSON'S PURSE, by Martyn Downer

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China's man in Hong Kong quits

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 26, 2005
The sudden resignation of China's hand-picked Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, reflects the effectiveness of the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong over the past few years, coupled with China's growing dissatisfaction with the man who was unable to effect an orderly transfer of power from British control to communist control.

Under the terms of the hand-over in 1997, China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong, but promised to protect Hong Kong's legal, political and economic freedom for a period of at least 50 years.

However, from the time of its formal takeover in 1997, China - through Mr Tung - attempted to restrict the freedoms enjoyed by the six million people in Hong Kong, and absorb it into China.

The first of these was the threat to abolish the democratically-elected Legislative Council and replace it by an appointed body, a threat from which Beijing retreated under both Hong Kong and international pressure.

Later, Mr Tung threatened to restrict the number of democratically-elected representatives on the Legislative Council, and refused to give the people the right to elect the Chief Executive.

Anti-sedition legislation

The anti-sedition legislation - apparently directed against supporters of Falun Gong, but a direct threat to anyone advocating freedom of speech - followed in 2003.

This led to huge street protests in Hong Kong, as the people who had no history of political activism suddenly responded to the continuing threats from Beijing.

China became increasingly frustrated by Mr Tung's inability to deliver Beijing's objectives.

Tung's fate was apparently sealed last December when Chinese president Hu Jintao, in an unprecedented public rebuke, criticised his poor performance.

While many people in Hong Kong are pleased to see Tung's back, they are apprehensive that Beijing will find a more effective way of achieving its objective.

China "will try to do what it has been doing on the mainland, pick a better leader, boost economic growth and hope this will maintain stability and dampen demands for more democracy," said Joseph Cheng, politics professor at Hong Kong's City University.

China has appointed Tung's deputy, Donald Tsang, to replace him for the balance of his five-year term.

Mr Tsang is a career civil servant. Educated in Hong Kong, holding a Master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, he joined the civil service in January 1967 and has held many positions in the administration dealing with local administration, finance, trade and policies relating to the return of Hong Kong to China.

Mr Tsang steered Hong Kong through the Asian financial crisis that swept across the region in 1997 and 1998. He later masterminded rigorous reforms to the local financial infrastructure.

Mr Tsang, who is far more capable than Mr Tung, has carefully straddled the divide between the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong and the totalitarians in Beijing.

Over the next few months, his diplomatic skills will be tested to the full.

Hong Kong's electoral college must meet within the next six months to elect a new chief executive who will remain in office until the end of Mr Tung's term in mid-2007.

This will give Beijing the opportunity to bring in its own man, should Mr Tsang prove insufficiently pliable.

However, the electoral college is due to disband by July 13 this year, thus forcing the election to take place before that date - most probably on July 10.

But that is a sensitive time for Beijing, since many Hong Kong residents have made it a tradition to take to the streets on the July 1 anniversary of the handover to vent their frustrations with Beijing's steadfast refusal to grant them full democracy.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy leader, Martin Lee, told the Hong Kong Standard that Tung's departure, at Beijing's behest, sets a bad precedent for the future of Hong Kong, and indicates that Beijing wants to continue to control Hong Kong.

A fall guy

He told the paper, "It is true that a lot of people in Hong Kong are unhappy with Tung's performance but now everybody wants to turn him into the fall guy."

Mr Lee said it was important to recall that Beijing had appointed Tung to take over in 1997, and just three years ago, reappointed him.

"He was hand-picked by [former Chinese President] Jiang Zemin," Martin Lee said. "If people now think that Mr Tung has done a bad job, I think we should lay the blame on Jiang. Beijing cannot shirk responsibility just by getting rid of him."

Mr Lee said that Mr Tung's forced resignation served notice on the next chief executive that he must never cross his masters in Beijing.

"This is a bad precedent. Is there any chance that the next chief executive will dare to say no to Beijing knowing that his predecessor was removed?" Lee asked.

"They got rid of Hong Kong democracy and now they want another leader. This new chief executive will do everything he is instructed to do," Lee said.

  • Peter Westmore

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