24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 16
Country, One System?
KAN Hong Kong
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Kong can be as protective of its freedoms as China is of its claims to
Taiwan. Or so one mainland official discovered last week when he sparked
widespread outrage in the territory for some unexpectedly heavy-handed
remarks about press freedom. At a seminar organized by journalists, Wang
Fengchao, deputy director of China's local liaison office, warned Hong
Kong's media against airing pro-independence views on Taiwan. He was referring
to the cable TV broadcast of an interview with Annette Lu, aired earlier
in the month, in which Taiwan's Vice President-elect referred to Beijing
as a "remote relative."
edition's table of contents
Local journalists' groups, newspapers and legislators, as well as the
U.S. State Department, have been quick to denounce Wang's remarks. Says
Christine Loh, an outspoken politician who made her own headlines last
week when she said she would quit Hong Kong's toothless legislature in
frustration: "It was a classic case of load gun, aim, shoot foot." Loh
and others note that the Basic Law--the mini-constitution governing
Hong Kong since its 1997 return to Chinese rule--guarantees citizens
a high degree of political and legal autonomy from Beijing. Imposing mainland-style
political control over Hong Kong, they note, would not only damage the
territory's economy, but also undermine the "one country, two systems"
principle, which Beijing wants to use as a model for enticing Taiwan to
This isn't the first time Hong Kong has been caught up in tension between
China and Taiwan. Shortly before the 1997 handover, Lu Ping, then the
senior Chinese official in Hong Kong, told reporters they should not "advocate"
independence for Taiwan or Tibet. Last year, the director of Radio-Television
Hong Kong was transferred out of her post shortly after the station was
criticized by Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen for broadcasting a Taiwan
official's explanation of President Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state"
formulation for relations between China and Taiwan.
In addition to his remarks on Taiwan, Wang called for the speedy drafting
of local subversion and sedition legislation, ostensibly to be used against
the press. The Basic Law requires that such laws be drawn up, but the
Hong Kong government--sensing local wariness--has moved cautiously.
To help dispel unease over Wang's words, Chief Secretary Anson Chan, speaking
for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (who was traveling in the U.S.), declared
that the Basic Law allows the press to "comment and report on all matters
of current interest."
Whether Wang's comments will have any tangible effect on Hong Kong's vigorous
local press--or its reputation as a global information and financial
hub--is less clear. Mak Yin-ting, chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists'
Association, worries that the remarks could have a "chilling effect" on
the media, leading to self-censorship. But Martin Lee, chairman of the
Democratic Party and dogged defender of Hong Kong's autonomy, says the
outcry over Wang's remarks is reassuring. "If there wasn't such a strong
response," he says, "Hong Kong would have no future. These are people
who take the freedom of the press quite seriously."
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