Hong Kong’s Status as Neutral Ground at Risk as China Asserts Power – The New York Times

The optimism about Hong Kong’s future was premised on the notion that China had to respect its ways or risk undermining the value of the territory it was reclaiming.

Beijing also hoped that Hong Kong’s prosperity would validate China’s mode of governance, in which politics are a distraction to economic progress. The party would govern Hong Kong through a loyal elite, while tapping the territory’s capital markets and professional ranks to advance China’s ambitious development plans.

Success in Hong Kong would be leveraged to court reunification with Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as part of its territory.

Some local leaders fretted that their interests were subordinate to Britain’s determination to close the book on its colonial adventures.

“The British did not give Hong Kong people a choice,” said Anson Chan, who was Hong Kong’s chief secretary — the second-highest position in the territory’s government — during and after the handover. “There was a great deal of trepidation. Even among the business sector there was skepticism, because, essentially, you were turning over Hong Kong to a sovereign power whose philosophy, ideology and everything else was so totally different.”

Many Westerners expressed hope, however, that Hong Kong would help change China rather than the other way around, serving as a conduit for free enterprise and democratic ideas. Some maintained that global commerce would prove decisive. “Constructive engagement” would tether Chinese fortunes to world markets, and that would require liberty.

“There is no firewall between economic freedom and freedom in its many other dimensions,” Lawrence H. Summers, who was deputy Treasury secretary, declared in Hong Kong before the handover. “The free flow of information, the ability of people to remain free, to enter into transactions, to speak out: These are all the essential elements of free markets and a strong financial system.”


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