Background of Hong Kong

     The Jewel of the East. Asia's capital. Crossroads between West and east. Hong Kong has been called many things, but put simply, it is an essential international center of commerce. Located in the South China Sea, it has long served as China's gateway to the world. It has the second highest GNP in Asia, is the tenth largest trading center in the world, has the busiest container port, and the fourth largest airport in the whole world (also the best place for shopping and eating!).

     In 1841, Britain defeated China in the First Opium War. In the first of the unequal treaties, the british forced China to give up Hong Kong Island. Over the next sisty years, China was also forced to cede Kowloon and lease the New Territories (Hong Kong has three sections: Hong Kong Island [where the financial center is], Kowloon [a peninsula right above the island], and the New Territories, a somwhat mountainous but big piece of land above Kowloon). The only problem for the British was that they had leased the New Territories in 1899, the lease being valid for 99 years. Of course, their treaty stipulated that the New Territories be returned in1997, and without the New Territories, Hong Kong would be without much of its food supply and all of its water supply. 

     Furthermore, By the 1970's, China demanded the return of all of Hong Kong. Without China's cooperation, Hong Kong would not have its primary food source nor receive the electric power generated on the mainland. Of course, Britain also wanted to avoid war with China. So, they signed the Joint Declaration in 1984, stipulating the return of all of Hong Kong in 1997, at the same time "guaranteeing" that Hong Kong would remain capitalist for the next fifty years. It also stipulated that democracy would be phased into Hong Kong's political structure by the twenty-first century.
    By this time, Hong Kong had changed a lot (understatement). You can see the difference between the first picture (painted in 1860) and the second picture (modern-day). No doubt about it, Hong Kong is now an international center of finance, manufacturing, etc. Living standards are high, and the government here is efficient and fair. 

     So when China unveiled its Basic Law (the constitution for Hong Kong) in 1989, people were very suspicious because it was a conservative document which called for a very slow timetable for democracy there (especially in the aftermath of the incident at Tiananmen Square). So, the British appointed Governor Chris Patten sought to guarantee that Hong Kong would remain an eminent city of law and order by completely democratizing Hong Kong's legislature in five years. China was upset over Patten's unilateral moves on the eve of Hong Kong's return to China, and on June 30, 1997 (the date of the takeover of Hong Kong), Hong Kong's democratically legislature was disbanded in favor of a 60-member Provisional Legislature which consists mostly of members of the pro-Communist and pro-business parties who continued to rule Hong Kong for a year before new elections were held.  China's position is that Hong Kong wasn't democratic from 1841 to 1989 under British rule, so it's insulting for the British to suddenly impose democracy right before Hong Kong returns to Chinese rule. They're saying that the British aren't exactly saints, having blocked efforts to democratize Hong Kong at the turn of the century and right after World War II.  

     In 1998, the first free direct elections ever held under Communist China's jurisdiction occurred, in Hong Kong.  The elections are a step back democratically from the 1995 elections.  20 of the 60 seats were directly elected, with universal manhood suffrage, but the other 40 seats were selected by committee and "functional constituancies" mostly made up mostly of the business elite of Hong Kong.  But as one European Union election monitor said, "It's better than nothing at all."  The Democratic Party, having been in the opposition the past year due to the appointment of the Provisional Legislature, captured a surprisingly large percentage of the votes.  They took 13 of the 20 directly elected seats, and 3 more in the functional constituancies, and so with 16 seats out of 60, the Democratic Party, the most vocal voice of democracy in Hong Kong, has the largest slate of votes.  

     Meanwhile, the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Mr. C. H. Tung, has had a free hand to rule in Hong Kong in 1998, since the Provisional Legislature consisted of people who mostly support China and Tung's policies. Mr. Tung is, of course, the first Chinese person to rule over Hong Kong in more than 140 years. He was educated at the University of Manchester, and is a son of a tycoon. When he took reign over his father's shipping business, he had to loan money indirectly from the Chinese government to keep it solvent. However, since then, Tung has shown good business sense and has made his business prosper. It is hoped that Tung will be able to put his excellent business ability into use in Hong Kong, which is a city that relies on good business. Sometimes though, people say Tung has also shown at times that he is too much of a businessman. He has been less open and less media-friendly than the last governor, Chris Patten. This may be because of his businessman's instinct to be more covert.  The current financial crisis and recession deepening throughout Asia, added to the fact that the new Legislative Council is not as much of a rubber stamp as it was under the Provisional Legislature, will test Tung's business skills severely.    Although controversy pervades Hong Kong's history, I hope that the new Hong Kong government will be as effective as the old one.
My personal thoughts on the Hong Kong handover
My Visit to Hong Kong, Summer 1997
A few pictures of Hong Kong in its crowning glory

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