Hong Kong's voices of democracy worry about future
June 26, 1997
Web posted at: 11:49 a.m. EDT (1549 GMT)
From Correspondent Tom Mintier
HONG KONG (CNN) -- What will remain of Hong Kong's civil liberties once China takes the reins of the British colony? This is the question supporters of democracy in Hong Kong are asking as the territory's handover to China nears.
Among those who are worried are demonstrators gathered downtown to protest against the China's People's Liberation Army for demanding that Hong Kong customs agents not inspect PLA vehicles. "We hope the PLA troops follow the Hong Kong laws, because Hong Kong is a place ruled by law," said demonstrator Kwan Hang.
But Hang and his fellow protesters are keenly aware that just a few days from now, their activities may no longer occur legally here -- and there is no guarantee that the laws they now vocally support, passed before the handover, will be upheld by their new landlord.
China has made assurances that basic rights and the rule of law will be respected. But those assurances have done little to soothe the jangled nerves of democracy's supporters.
"There will be some limitations," one Hong Kong resident predicted, but, "I think it will be not too serious."
Another said, "I think in the first couple of years, the situation will not change that much, but after that? You know I can't comment."
Close watch for signs of democracy
Incoming Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has said that his government must "strike a balance between civil liberties and social stability, personal rights and social obligations, individual interests and the common good."
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook translates that to mean that Hong Kong will have democratic elections. "China must honor its commitment to have fresh elections, to have a democratic legislative council," Cook said. "It cannot continue to have a legislative council consisting only of people selected by China."
Emily Lau, a 46-year-old former journalist, is one of the strongest voices in Hong Kong in support of elections. Lau, who garnered more votes in the 1995 legislative elections than any other candidate, is harshly critical of the current legislative council.
"All these people have been turned into rubber stamps. They have decided in Peking, and so the legislature here, the future government here, will just have to follow suit. It is crazy," she said.
Rubber stamp or not, it is the provisional legislature which will determine the future of democracy in Hong Kong. They were voted into office by some 400 pro-Beijing wealthy Hong Kong businessmen. Elections are scheduled in 1998 to replace this group but only half the seats are up for grabs.
Poll: Hong Kong residents optimistic
A new CNN/Time poll conducted just before the handover with 800 Hong Kong residents seems to indicate they are optimistic. Six out of every 10 residents said they thought reunification with China was a good thing, and one of every two felt that maintaining social order was more important than democracy.
However, Victoria Park could be the scene which will show whether Hong Kong residents really prefer social order to free speech. Victoria Park has been the scene of massive yearly demonstrations against Beijing's crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The next time such a demonstration could happen is in 1998, but there are fears that under China's public security law, such demonstrations may not be tolerated.
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