Smooth Hong Kong handover lifts China's image
July 15, 1997
Web posted at: 11:31 a.m. EDT (1531 GMT)
From Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Relations between the United States
and China have been plagued by sharp differences on many
issues, from human rights to arms proliferation to trade. One
of the most potentially volatile questions in recent weeks
has been Chinese policy toward Hong Kong, the former British
colony that reverted to Chinese rule on July 1.
But so far, the handover has gone remarkably smoothly, and
observers believe that relations between the two countries
Barely two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright was at the center of controversy, when she decided
to boycott part of the Hong Kong handover ceremonies.
Albright stayed away from some official celebrations to
protest China's dissolution of the territory's democratically
The move highlighted fears that Hong Kong's fate could become
a major new sore point in a long-troubled U.S.-Chinese
"Hong Kong was really a landmine or flashpoint for the
evolution of Sino-American relations," said Professor Steven
Goldstein of Smith College. "A mistake or some other
outburst during the handover could have been very serious for
the ongoing effort to improve relations."
But the handover went smoothly. From Chinese leaders to Hong
Kong's new Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to democracy
activists in the streets, all the key players showed
remarkable restraint. And the pattern has continued since
Despite tougher regulations, the new government has allowed
demonstrators to protest without police interference.
Pro-democracy activists are still appearing in the local
media. And the economy continues to boom.
At a time when China policy remains a controversial issue in
the United States, especially with allegations of a Chinese
connection in the U.S. campaign financing scandal, the
untroubled handover has provided a big boost to those in
Washington favoring better ties with Beijing.
"The smooth transition will enable those in the United
States, including those in the State Department, to manage
relations with China with less interference from hard-liners
who have nothing but bad things to say about China," said
Professor Robert Ross of Boston College.
Indeed, if Beijing's restrained approach towards Hong Kong
continues, it could contribute to a significant overall shift
in Western perceptions of China.
"If China really demonstrates a willingness to tolerate Hong
Kong roughly as it has been," Goldstein said, "that will do a
huge amount to change the image of China that had been
previously changed by the events of the government's
crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen
Just two weeks into the transition of Hong Kong, it's still
too early to assume things will work out happily. There are
too many uncertainties, both in Hong Kong, which is now a
special administrative region, and in Beijing.
But after all the fears of a political crackdown, trouble in
the streets or financial jitters, Hong Kong is in far better
shape than many had dared to imagine.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.