Ming Chan, Professor of History,
University of Hong Kong
Byron Weng, Professor of Government of Public Administration
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
BYRON WENG, Professor of Government of Public Administration, Chinese University of Hong
Kong: I have a hunch that Hong Kong’s very future may well be in question, and Hong Kong’s
utility to China itself, may be called into question.
KEITH PORTER: Hong Kong on the brink of historic change on this addition of Common
WENG: I believe that the Hong Kong people will most likely join in the celebration.
Although, I could imagine some people will be expressing their sorrow in some ways on that day.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation, I’m Keith Porter.
We are now less than ten months away from the end of Hong Kong as a colonial outpost for the
British Empire. On June 30, 1997, this booming symbol of capitalism and world trade will come
under control of the People’s Republic of China. With us to sort out the meaning of this change
are two experts from Hong Kong. First, Professor Byron Weng of the Chinese University of Hong
Kong. I asked him what he thought about Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping’s contention that Hong Kong
will remain autonomous from China for fifty years.
WENG: Autonomy is a term that even scholars have disagreements about. For Deng Xiao Ping,
what he probably would want to convey is that Hong Kong can remain more or less autonomous in the
economic field. So that Hong Kong will stay prosperous and useful to China. It probably does not
mean that Hong Kong can run away politically and have its own democracy, have its own ways of
doing things without paying attention to China’s needs or the intentions of Beijing and Beijing’s
I believe Beijing has in mind, one country, two systems with one country always a priority and
two systems secondary. That is to say, solvency or the realization of China’s solvency should
always come first. And autonomy must be understood in that context.
MING CHAN, Professor of History, University of Hong Kong: Beijing has emphasized that
Hong Kong people rule Hong Kong aspect and they never intend to send anybody down to run the Hong
Kong government of the future.
PORTER: This is Professor Ming Chan from the University of Hong Kong. Dr. Chan also heads
the Hong Kong Documentary Archives at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
CHAN: But on the other hand, it is within their prerogative to conduct national defense,
security matters, and also they were invading and absolute prerogative on international relations
foreign affair. And since Hong Kong is a rather highly cosmopolitan, economic hub lots of things
that we enjoy in a daily basis, that’s not interfered with by the British in London at this
point. May not be so easily practicable, because after all London is so far away and London is
the departing colonial master. While Beijing is right next door and it is increasingly integrated
economic and eventually political system.
So I am not to sure how much more Hong Kong would enjoy in terms of autonomy, despite the fact
it’s suppose to be a case of decolonialization with the British coming out and Beijing assuming
not nominal, but full and actual sovereignty.
WENG: Autonomy has no contents to it. If one were to go to the other extreme, saying that
the Hong Kong really cannot enjoy any degree of autonomy and Beijing is always going to interfere
and call all the shots, then I have a hunch that Hong Kong’s very future may well be in question.
And Hong Kong’s utility to China itself may well be called into question.
I would surmise that some healthy distinction must be catered to, must be in the picture, must be
in the mind of Deng Xiao Ping as well. That is, China does not have all the know hows of running
a capitalist society, of maintaining a capitalistic economy, of making certain that a place like
Hong Kong which has run on a very different set of systems. The legal system, the economic
system, the governmental system. That maintaining these systems would be to the interest of
China. That notion, that understanding must there.
If we don’t have that, not only will Hong Kong’s future be in question, I think China’s potential
benefits to be derived from Hong Kong would itself be very much reduced. Discounted.
CHAN: The very top leadership definitely has all the intentions to preserve, what has
been really successful, remarkable in Hong Kong’s economic outreach and Hong Kong’s contribution
to the modernization and reform and opening, that also help the economy take off of the South
China economy in the last decade and a half. But there is the not so hidden worry that even
Beijing’s top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs has repeatedly emphasized that government
agencies, provincial, municipal levels and other government enterprise in the mainland should
stop from interfering or stretching their long arm into Hong Kong after 97.
So this is a very interesting case that the top leadership and original blueprint have all the so
called self-denial or constraint on the part of the Peking national authorities. But Peking is
only part of the system of governmental and state organization on mainland China. And
particularly, right next door in Guandong province. They enjoy an intimate and usually very
productive and official economic and social interaction with Hong Kong.
But after 97…
PORTER: Professor Chan, can I interrupt you for just a minute? I want to make sure that
we know the province that you just mentioned.
PORTER: Where there’s been a high level of industry and economic development allowed.
CHAN: Uh huh. Hong Kong invest so much that at this point, at least three million people
in Guandong and some argue maybe as high as five, were employees of Hong Kong, invest in Hong
Kong, operate Hong Kong manage economic enterprise. So in this sense, he already had a high
degree of economic integration. And I’m sure the people in Guandong and speak Cantonese the major
dialect in Hong Kong look at each other as really close cousins, if not brothers.
But there are other provinces further north, less developed… envious of this Guandong, Hong
Kong, that they may wish after 97, after Hong Kong becomes part of China, they want also to stick
a finger and cut a slice of the pie. And that may mess up the very delicate, and finely crafted
PORTER: Professor Weng, let me ask you a question based on what Professor Chan has just
said. Do you think that the relationship or the whatever happens in Hong Kong will be more
influenced by Beijing, or will it be more influenced by that economic integration with Canton
Province and the fact that the people feel such a kinship for each other there? Where will the
key influences on Hong Kong be after June of 1997?
WENG: Political influence from central government is always the most dominant. That will
be one factor that affects everything that goes on in Hong Kong after July 1997. I believe that
everybody in Hong Kong, everybody in Guandong whose interested in Hong Kong affairs, would always
be paying attention to that particular factor.
But when it comes to economics, I have no doubt that there is a natural kinship, as Ming Chan
said, between Guandong and Hong Kong. For that matter, Taiwan probably comes in as well. That
economic operation will have a different kind of sphere, different circles to be drawn. And there
the kind of relationships that develop might well have in it a factor, an element that tries to
evade the political domineering influence from Beijing as well.
The intricacy of this type of relationship is yet to be further analyzed. But many commentators
have already eluded to that possibility, that the existence of such a situation. And Shanghai
would feature heavily in many ways, not just economically. But Shanghai competition, in a way,
would also make this picture even more complicated.
PORTER: Let me talk about what will happen on June 30, 1997. Six million people will be
transferred from a western colonial power to a Communist state. It seems unprecedented to me in
history. Are the precedents, are there other times when such an occurrence has taken place and we
can learn lessons from it? And physically, what will happen on that day? I mean we know that the
flag will come down, the flag will go up, the governor counsel will get on his boat and sail off
into the harbor. And then what? What’s the physical occurrence on June 30, 1997?
WENG: It’s difficult to say whether we have precedents to this situation. I think that
the key point in your question is that it is a territory with a large number of people who have
been enjoying relative freedom. Who would be turned over to a government which is known not to
harbor that freedom, which is known to violate human rights. And to have such a territory being
turned over by a government that stood for freedom and human rights and all of that, with the
whole international community not only watching but applauding, almost.
The whole thing is being done peacefully, with tremendous attention from all corners of the
globe. And yet a tragic aspect of it, in a sense, is known also to all these people who are
watching it. In that sense, I think it’s very hard to find another example or precedent.
As to your other question, what will happen on June 30, 1997, or the day after. I understand that
the British side and the Chinese side have very different views of what ceremonies, of what kind
of ceremonies ought to take place on that day. I think the British idea of having a fleet come in
to greet the governor and take him away in glory, is not liked by the Beijing authorities.
But the Beijing authorities contention that Governor Patton ought not to participate in such a
ceremony is totally out of kilter. That’s unreasonable. The two sides must negotiate over this
thing, this issue. And I believe they have been doing that. I imagine at some point before that
date comes, some agreement will be reached. I have no doubt that efforts will be made to get to
I assume in the end there is always a likelihood that there will be a relatively simpler
compromised version of joint ceremony. And there may be separate ceremonies of various kinds
conducted, mostly by the Chinese side in celebration of taking back Hong Kong. And a lesser kind
of ceremony on the part of the British.
I believe that the Hong Kong people will most likely join in the celebration. Although, I could
imagine some people will be expressing their sorrow in some ways on that day. I don’t know how
extensive that will be, but they will probably have to do it fairly low keyed. I think it won’t
be too constructive to have lots of expressions that are, not of the right tongues so to speak
for the new era to begin for Hong Kong. After all, all these people presumably have to stay in
Hong Kong and work on Hong Kong’s future, for the betterment of all.
PORTER: We’re talking on this edition of Common Ground about the future of Hong
Kong, with Professors Ming Chan and Byron Weng.
Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the
broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit,
non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and
encourage dialogue on world affairs.
There seems to be this fear that the political system and the political culture of mainland China
will overrun Hong Kong. Is there any likelihood that the political system and political culture
in Hong Kong will instead infect the rest of China?
WENG: When people say the tail may wag the dog, normally they mean the economic side of
the story. Very few think that Hong Kong, alone, can have that kind of influence on mainland
China. There was a time when mainland China spoke of spiritual pollution coming from Hong Kong
and tried to stem that tide.
But I think that influence of that nature is present always. Its influence may be quite limited.
Certainly the influence into remoter areas of China in the western provinces, in northern China
would be much less than the influences in the eastern provinces, in Canton, Shanghai, and so
I think that with time China herself may develop its own culture, which would be more open, more
human rights oriented, because of international pressure, because of Hong Kong, because of Taiwan
influence, because of many other factors. Including the agitation of the more democratical human
rights oriented people within mainland China as well.
I think in that larger context, Hong Kong has a role. But to expect that Hong Kong alone will
truly… wags a dog. I think that’s expecting too much.
PORTER: Let’s talk about this sort of political speech issue for a minute. I assume
having not been to Hong Kong, that I could go to a newsstand in Hong Kong openly and purchase the
Times of London, The Asian Wall Street Journal, perhaps a variety of other
WENG: That’s right.
CHAN: Asian Wall Street Journal, uh huh.
PORTER: For comparison sake, on the streets of Beijing could I, if I had the money walk
publicly to a newsstand and purchase any of those publications?
CHAN: It’s on subscription only. And also subscription is not wide spread or common. You
have foreign business organizations…
WENG: And they often don’t receive the issues.
CHAN: …and then some hotels. But they are suppose for in-house consumption. You are not
suppose to take it out. And then Time magazine is not a common sight, nor Wall Street
Journal, Asian Edition and honestly the only regular thing is China Daily which
is published by the government for international and to serve as inside China’s English reading
public. It is a mouthpiece for the government.
PORTER: You can clearly see where my question is then. In 1998, for example, will I be
able to buy those publications on the street in Hong Kong?
WENG: I hope, I hope we can still do so. I hope that changes will not be overnight. I
hope that Beijing’s effort to control things will not make Hong Kong a barren place in such a
short time. But I’m alarmed, very much, by the kind of development that you are inferring in your
question. I noticed and although I haven’t watched the series because I don’t have the cable
television in Hong Kong, but people said that a series of TV programs produced recently by
Beijing’s supported sources on Hong Kong’s history. Actually, ten, what is it, hourly programs
fairly detail, did not include in it the story of 1967 riot in Hong Kong, did not have anything,
any reference that would make clear that a million people were on the streets supporting
democracy movement in Beijing in 1989, prior to the June 4 massacre.
And that indicates to me that the producers of these films, even about Hong Kong, even before
1997, already are doctoring history. And you can see from that that we have grounds to be
worrisome about the situation. We know there have been talks of self censorship within Hong Kong.
And that’s plain to see, although I think not yet too serious. But I think that will probably
become very prevalent in certain segments of Hong Kong’s media come 1997.
And we are watching that very carefully. But I am still hopeful that it won’t be as you implied,
that in a year’s time we have lost all of that.
CHAN: But it is rather interesting observation that when Murdoch purchased the Star
Satellite system based in Hong Kong but broadcasted all over Asia, from India to Mongolia to
Korea. After a second thought he pulled off the BBC World Service, because he want to move for
commercial reason into the China market. And he regret, his own example is it, look at the BBC
World Service. It has toppled dictatorship, here and there. So if big international media empire
had to fear the markets closed door and ?? ??, or self-censor. What happened to local based media
without the necessary resources or international stature. But on the other hand…
PORTER: So if Rupert Murdoch can’t stand up to those forces, how could a local media ever
CHAN: Uh huh, that is the question. But on the other hand, if China so deeply appreciate
and value the continued, economical, and functional contribution of Hong Kong as an open and free
international hub. Then they should realize that it’s not just the fax machine, the stock
exchange, but you have to have the software of the free exchange of information and ideas, and
the free press for both domestic and international consumption. It’s part and parcel of Hong
Kong’s functioning vitality as in economic hub.
WENG: I would agree very much to that point. And I would want to add that the
international community, international media in particular really has a great opportunity to make
a contribution. To make certain that this press freedom, which is very much a part of the basis
of larger freedom in Hong Kong could maintain itself and last and continue on.
PORTER: I have two more broad areas that I want to talk about briefly. The first is, this
idea of how Hong Kong will be governed. There is a preparatory committee, which is chosen members
for a selection committee which will chose a chief executive and a 60 member provisional
legislator. Now there is certainly nothing democratic about this process. Is there anything
democratic about this selection process as I’ve described it?
WENG: It’s relative. I would agree in general that it’s not democratic. But I would say
compared to what goes on mainland China, it is somewhat more democratic.
PORTER: Will the end product be a chief executive who is popular in Hong Kong or one
whose popular in Beijing or one who is some combination of those two?
CHAN: The language the PRC officials use, including Mr. Jeng Jaiming himself, is that had
to be a person trusted by Beijing for sure, but also acceptable to the people of Hong Kong, and
had to have a proven capacity, and also some integrity. So if the personal quality plus the ??
power of Beijing, but also his acceptability to the populus of Hong Kong. But acceptable is not
meaning, necessarily, popular.
PORTER: Final area for you and that has to do with the United States and our relationship
with both China and Hong Kong. As you know, there’s been trade wars, if you want to call them
that, going on between the US and China for quite some time now. After June 30 of 1997, what will
the US relationship with Hong Kong be in regards to those sanctions that we may place on Chinese
trade or that China may place on American imports? Will the China foreign policy include an
economic policy include the Hong Kong foreign policy and economic policy?
CHAN: From the PRC central government’s view, Hong Kong is part and parcel of the domain
and as such… under their jurisdiction have to obey the basic law code of ??. National security
defense methods and foreign policy, and international relation is their absolute prerogative. So
is the worry that Hong Kong will actually suffer the deinternationalization.
WENG: As to the question of sanctions, whether if there’s a, for instance, a trade war
between the United States and China, where Hong Kong stands and what will happen to Hong Kong and
so forth. I… not that Hong Kong has been a lobbyist on behave of PRC, on behalf of China. When
the most favorite nation clause question comes up, that’s simply because the kind of economic
integration that Ming Chan was talking about between Hong Kong and mainland China, is so
extensive, has become so extensive that any sanction against mainland China necessarily effect
the well being of Hong Kong.
It means many jobs that could be lost. It means trade volume being cut and so forth. But the
United States has taken very significant steps in that US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which
demands that the State Department gives periodic report to Congress about progresses in Hong
Kong. Including questions of human rights, development in Hong Kong regarding governmental
affairs, human rights, and what not.
And such action together with American intention to treat Hong Kong clearly as a separate customs
territory, to give Hong Kong its own quota for purposes of exports and immigration and so forth.
I think these moves on the part of the United States goes a long way in making or substantiating,
helping to substantiate the contents of one country, two systems in Hong Kong. That sanctions
question alone probably would not explain the totality of the implications of US policy.
I think the US concern through sanctions or otherwise would go, in my opinion, a long way in
making certain that Hong Kong will more or less remain as open and free and properly stable and
prosperous for a long time to come.
PORTER: That is Professor Byron Weng of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Our other
guest has been Professor Ming Chan of the University of Hong Kong.
For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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