March 17, 2005


Was Hong Kong's Boss a Democrat in Disguise? (William J. Dobson, March 2005, Foreign Policy)

In his incompetence, Tung may actually have been the democrats’ best friend. Consider how much the territory has changed on his watch. Long before Tung came onto the scene, we were always told Hong Kong was about economics, not politics. The people who built this Asian boomtown were interested in making money, not a fuss. Even when 500,000 Hong Kongers poured into the street in July 2003 to protest Tung’s anti-subversion legislation, longtime talking heads strained to argue that the people were really upset about their sixth year of recession. It couldn’t be the politics.

But, after eight years of living under Tung, it’s hard to argue that the people of Hong Kong don’t care about more than their economic future. Those years taught the city’s residents that matters such as public health, official budgets, and protection of civil liberties are political issues that public involvement can shape. Today, as Beijing’s leaders know, the city has a loud and active community of democratic activists and political parties. Indeed, the anti-Tung backlash has been so powerful in Hong Kong, even the pro-Beijing political parties support the idea of holding direct elections in the territory. The democratic tide was so strong during the legislative elections last year that a number of pro-business candidates—who are guaranteed seats in so-called functional constituencies representing manufacturing and financial interests—opted to take their chances in competitive district races. Why? Because they see the territory moving in a democratic direction and they don’t want to appear to be on the wrong side of history. The record high voter turnout last September suggests they are right.

To be sure, Hong Kong is still a city of pinstripes and power ties. Its democratic fervor is a far cry from the impassioned politics of a Taiwan or South Korea. But the city that was supposed to be about making your fortune—and nothing else—is a political animal, too. Saying otherwise will no longer do. And, for that, we have Tung Chee-hwa to thank.

Who else but communists could cause a recession in Hong Kong?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2005 8:38 PM
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