For Hong Kong, A Defining Moment

Hong Kong has lost one of its best assets with the resignation of Chief Secretary Anson Chan. Now it's up to her boss, Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa, to show that his administration can still fight for freedom of the press and the rule of law without a woman who was widely known as the conscience of Hong Kong. Though that moniker was unfair--longtime Democrat legislator Martin Lee, among others, is far more outspoken in his defense of the former colony--it reflects the sad truth that Chan was willing to speak up when Tung would not. Tellingly, it was Chan who slapped down a mainland official who last year warned local businessmen against doing business with Taiwan companies that Beijing didn't like. It was Chan who reminded the world that Beijing's promises would be hollow words unless the city's people fought to keep their freedom. Fight she did, though it was those constant fights that led to her premature departure.

The hard part of Hong Kong's transition is now beginning. Though it's nearly four years since the Union Jack came down and the People's Liberation Army marched into the shimmering harbor city that is China's new pride, Tung has yet to articulate his vision for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's financial markets have much to do to banish the collusion and rip-offs that prevent it from being a world-class financial center. Closer economic cooperation with the mainland needs to be embraced, even if that means hurting powerful interests at home. Tung needs to champion a city where a free press is seen as a treasure rather than a threat, one where laws apply to all, even the powerful, and where he doesn't run to Beijing when the court issues an opinion he doesn't like. He needs, above all, to fight to put into practice Beijing's longstanding promise of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" in a way that ensures the city's next half-century will be as fruitful as the last one has been. Chan's departure makes the task more pressing than ever.

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