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Home > East Asia > 

HK gets the worst of `two systems'
Paul Lin
5/28/2003



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SARS has damaged Hong Kong perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. In tracing the reasons for this, one finds that they are related to "one country, two systems." But it's not the "two systems" that is a problem. It's the "one country" -- the same "one country" that Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and those other high officials frequently promote because they think "one country" should take precedence over "two systems," and "two systems" must defer to "one country."

Being unable to think of any way to resolve Hong Kong's economic difficulties, Tung could only advocate "integration" with the Pearl River delta region in his policy report in January this year -- thereby pushing Hong Kong one step closer to the abyss of "one country."

Unfortunately, in February, SARS swept across Guangdong like a tidal wave, and Hong Kong was "integrated" with the affected area. Since Hong Kong considers itself part of "one country," no one among the chief executive and other high officials dared to deny the Guangdong Provincial Government's claims that this strange disease might have originated in Hong Kong, despite the fact that a wave of panic buying had already occurred in Guangdong.

Moreover, since neither Beijing nor Hong Kong took the disease seriously, Hong Kong also lowered its guard. As a result, when a Chinese professor carried SARS from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, he not only harmed the territory, but also exported the disease to Singapore, Vietnam and Canada. It was only when evidence from abroad suggested that Hong Kong had exported the disease that the territory's government awoke from its dream.

When Southeast Asian countries imposed travel restrictions on Chinese citizens to prevent the spread of SARS, Hong Kong took no such measures, despite its extremely extensive contacts with China.

Obviously they were afraid of offending the Chinese government.

Since viruses are frequently "exported" from China via Hong Kong, some countries adopted travel restrictions for people from Hong Kong as well.

Only then did Hong Kong belatedly begin to monitor the temperatures of outbound travellers. Nevertheless, they continued to put off monitoring those travellers arriving from China, a policy that was only implemented on April 26.

On the previous day, the "Shanghai clique" of former president Jiang Zemin had finally made public their support for the actions taken by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in the fight against SARS. Is it that Hong Kong not only has to take its cue from Beijing but must also get a nod from Jiang? After all, Tung is also a member of Jiang's clique.

Another example illustrates the point. On April 12, when Hu went south and met with Tung in Shenzhen, the epidemic was raging in Hong Kong, but Tung refused Hu's offer to provide aid.

On April 25, however, when the Shanghai clique stepped forward to fight SARS, Tung's attitude changed. When he met Wen at a conference in Bangkok on April 29, he unexpectedly asked Wen for help, and by this time the epidemic in Hong Kong had already taken a sharp turn for the better.

Does this indicate that only after Jiang had acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic could Hong Kong acknowledge the same and request aid?

Prior to that, major problems were trivialized and minor problems were ignored altogether.

These examples show that Hong Kong has been dragged into the power struggles waged among the elite of the Communist Party of China. It's not just "one country" but also "one party."

So Hong Kong is now buzzing with rumors that Beijing's new leaders are no longer so fond of Tung. Indeed, both Hu and Wen emphasize their support for Hong Kong and not for Tung personally in order to avoid being forced to change their tune in the future.

But when Jiang's protege in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, Tang Jiaxuan, came to Shenzhen to present Tung with medical supplies provided by the central government, we once again heard flattering praise for Tung himself. Tang was not only speaking to the people of Hong Kong, but also to Hu and Wen.

The medical supplies Beijing bestowed on Hong Kong this time were valued at about 100 million yuan. Beijing budgeted a total of 5 billion yuan to fight SARS.

The 1.3 billion people of China were allotted 4.9 billion yuan, and the 7 million people of Hong Kong were allotted 100 million yuan. Clearly Beijing is partial to Hong Kong, and this is the plus side, for Hong Kong, of "two systems."

Of course, it is all done to impress Taiwan with the ultimate goal of achieving "one country." But how do the people of China, especially the sick who fled the cities out of helplessness and are waiting to die, view Hong Kong? Some areas have been hostile enough to "quarantine" Hong Kong, driving out everyone from Hong Kong.

Could this be unrelated to the privileges the central government has granted Hong Kong?

At this point, officials in Hong Kong would once again like to "de-Sinicize" and focus on "two systems."

It would appear that "one country" and "two systems" are concepts that can be cynically manipulated. Tung wants to have his cake and eat it too.


Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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