Beijing's Poor Start In Hong Kong

Hong Kong's great success has rested on the pillars of a clean civil service, transparent markets, and individual political rights. As the July 1 hand-over approaches, all three are eroding. Despite its longstanding "One country--two systems" pledge, Beijing, wittingly or not, appears to be turning Hong Kong into a place of contacts and corruption. Even if this jeopardizes relations with the U.S. and Europe, China can't seem to stop extending heavy-handed control over Hong Kong. There is still time for forces within the Chinese government to halt the movement, but not much.

The latest in a series of depressing developments is the recommendation by a committee preparing for the colony's return to dilute key parts of Hong Kong's Bill of Rights, which was passed in 1991 right after Tiananmen Square. Beijing argues that it simply wants to return to the status quo ante of 1984 when it signed the hand-over deal with Britain. However, much has happened in Asia since then. Democracy made great strides in Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Only in Hong Kong is it receding. The Legislative Council, much of which is popularly elected, will soon be replaced by a Beijing-appointed council. And now, the Bill of Rights is going.

The honesty of the civil service is being called into question as well. The Legislative Council is investigating whether or not a top bureaucrat secretly did Beijing's bidding by giving China the names of 200,000 Hong Kong residents who received British passports that would allow them to flee if the political situation became unbearable.

Hong Kong's vaunted markets are also under attack. Business people with connections to power-holders in China are getting sweet insider deals in public companies. The notion of transparency is quickly disappearing in the rush to favoritism. Free-market capitalism is slowly being replaced by quanxi capitalism, with business based on connections and payoffs, not free competition.

It is a sad spectacle. Sadder still, Beijing can't see the paradox of trying to enter the World Trade Organization at the same time it is eroding market democracy in Hong Kong.

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