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CONTENTS
"Caveat Emptor"
Part One Governing
1. The Last Governor
2. Hong Kong's "Fatal" Years
3. Colonial Questions
Part Two The View from Hong Kong
4. Tiger Talk
5. Asian Values
6. Freedom and the Market
Part Three Looking to the Future
7. New World--Old Lessons
8. How to Make Money
9. China and the West
10. Back to the Future
Index

East and West
China, Power, and the Future of Asia

By Christopher Patten

Times Books



(C) 1998 Christopher Patten
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-8129-9036-6



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CHAPTER ONE

    The Last Governor

The Mountains are at their loveliest
and court cases dwindle,
"The birds I saw off at dawn
at dusk I watch return,"
petals from the vase cover my seal box
the curtains bang undisturbed
.

    --Tang Xianzu, "The Peony Pavilion"

    Colonial governors, like the Samatran rhinoceros, the Florida manatee, and the Politburo of the Chinese Communist party, are an almost extinct species. The sun has set on Europe's nineteenth-century empires. For Britain, trumpeted Last Posts have echoed back over continents and seas. The Royal instructions and Letters Patent, which carried the smack of benevolently authoritarian governance to distant tribes and lands `and cultures, have been filed away. All that is left is the sovereign responsibility over a handful of rocks and glands whose people are too few or too presently secure to allow us to slip off home. In Britain, we don the remaining hat rack of ostrich-plumed topees with resignation, not enthusiasm.

    Hong Kong is where the story of Empire really ended, but it was a curious footnote to a tale already largely told. I was the Last Governor (a title invariably given capital letters to denote, I suppose, its historic significance) of what was one of Britain's greatest colonies and certainly its richest. But my job was different from that of all those governors who had lowered the Union flag elsewhere. They had been charged with the duty of preparing their communities for independence. Coming from what Nelson Mandela among many others has called "the home of parliamentary democracy," British governors were required to provide those they ruled with the means, intellectual and institutional, to take their destiny in their own hands. Empire was to be dissolved from the top down.

    No one today would seek to justify reverting to imperial rule, one country governing the whole or part of another, or to defend the injustices and humiliations of colonial history. And most of us can refrain from the temptation to speculate about how much less freedom there is today in some formerly colonized countries now that they are "free." But apologists for Britain's record are surely entitled to claim that by and large no empire has been wound up so peacefully and with such benign intent. There were mistakes; there was blood--tragically, far too much of it in India. There was sometimes procrastination, though the speed of departure, once the decision to go had been made, was usually extraordinarily swift, too swift for comfort in some cases. Overall, nevertheless, it is not a bad story--men and women infused with the values of nineteenth-century liberalism trying to do their best, installing democracy, training civil servants, policemen, and soldiers, establishing independent courts, entrenching civil liberties. In one country after another, the whole constitutional module was wheeled out one sultry southern night, mounted on its launching pad, and as the midnight hour struck and the brass bands played a baptismal anthem, it was blasted off into outer space. Sometimes the satellite went satisfactorily into orbit; sometimes it crashed embarrassingly to earth; but the enterprise was usually well managed and well meant.

    Colonial rule in Hong Kong was to end differently. Only a part of Hong Kong had been granted to Britain in the nineteenth century by China; the majority of the land was held on a lease, due to expire in 1997. While it would have been theoretically possible to retain the territory held by grant--a course of action urged on Britain in the early 1980s by some of those local Chinese advisers to the British Governor who subsequently (such is politics) became cheerleaders for China--this would have been neither politically judicious nor administratively feasible. Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula--the land ceded outright by grant-depended on the hinterland of the New Territories and beyond for food and water. For Britain to have made a last imperial stand on the shores of the South China Sea would have risked local calamity and international obloquy. But the alternative was hardly palatable. It was to hand a free Chinese city back to a totalitarian Chinese state. This was inevitably a rip-roaring story for the global media--the last British colony was to be surrendered to the last Communist tyranny. A good audience for the show was guaranteed.

    The situation was entangled in political complexity, economic uncertainty, and human frailty. It had sapped the energy of British administrators and bored the British political classes into indifference. It brought out the very worst in British sophistry and the best in our traditions of public administration. It made quiet heroes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Hong Kong. It was capable of almost any outcome--from economic collapse to urban riot, from mass emigration and capital flight to civil breakdown and blood on the streets. Before I went to Hong Kong as Governor, one newspaper editor told me he thought that the odds were evenly balanced as to whether I would leave by royal yacht or by air force helicopter from the ballroom roof of Government House.

    While I thought this decidedly far-fetched, it was the more credible impossibilities of the job that attracted me to it. After five years running the Conservative party's Research Department, I had become a Member of Parliament in 1979, one of the beneficiaries of Margaret Thatcher's landmark victory that year, and I remained in the House of Commons for thirteen years. From 1983 to 1992 I had been a British Minister, a member of the Cabinet for the last three of those years. But in 1992, while Chairman of the Conservative party, I lost my own Bath seat in a general election that the Conservative party won. The proffered possibilities of staying in British politics were then unattractive. Elevation to the House of Lords would, in my judgment, have ruled out my holding any of the most senior and most interesting jobs in government, like the Foreign Office and the Treasury. I did not believe those who told me otherwise, and thought they were allowing their friendship for me to overwhelm their political sense. A by-election was equally unappealing. Parachuting senior party figures into understandably wary constituencies has a calamitous track record--bones are broken and careers wrecked. I was particularly averse to subjecting my long-suffering (though willing) wife and family to another bruising encounter with my political ambitions. Politics seemed a closed door domestically, yet I still wanted to work in public service and was drawn to the prospect of spending some time abroad, which would save me from becoming one of the wallflowers of Westminster, pining for the next dance. When the Prime Minister, John Major, generously suggested on the morrow of his victory and my defeat that I might be interested in becoming Governor of Hong Kong, I leapt at the offer, regarding the hazards of the enterprise as among its main selling points.

    "It's an impossible job," an American friend, Professor Nelson Polsby, told me, "which you'll have to make look possible as long as you possibly can." Not everyone took this view. I was strongly counseled against accepting the job by one former diplomat and politician (who has made a career out of resigning from careers) on the grounds that there was nothing left to do in Hong Kong. All had been settled, and I would find myself coping with an enervating climate and dull people who talked about nothing but money. The job wasn't impossible; it was all too possible. It consisted simply of being transported along already laid tram lines to a known destination five years hence. The petals would certainly gather on my seal box.

    There was also a strongly held view in some diplomatic quarters that to appoint a politician as Governor was to run a number of unconscionable risks. First, a politician would not by definition have been soaked in the orthodoxy of the Foreign Office mandarinate on China and Hong Kong. The apostolic succession of Hong Kong governors, ambassadors to China, and leading policy makers on Hong Kong had shuffled a handful of people around the senior posts in this important area of public policy. They were not all cut from the same timber. For example, Sir Edward Youde (who was Governor from 1982 until his death in office in 1987) had been a strong-minded and immensely popular Governor, fiercely loyal to Hong Kong, and perhaps as a result was regarded in the Foreign Office's private historic assessment of its custodianship of Hong Kong as a tad awkward. The same officials had moved conscientiously and honorably from chair to chair, but their political ministers (and--in some cases--masters) had come and game, particularly at the junior levels, with all the casual frequency of British political life. The notion of a politician arriving in the job with, conceivably, his own questions and his own ideas was bad enough; what was worse was to have a politician senior enough to have a direct line to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. With a former cabinet minister as Governor, policy was clearly more likely to be initiated in Hong Kong than in London or Peking.

    It has sometimes been said that the Chinese themselves wanted this, seeing it as the best way to speed up decision making in the last few years of transition. I never saw any evidence for this, or for their concern to expedite the business of government. What is true is that Chinese harassing and harrying of my predecessor, particularly over the plans to build a new airport, undermined him politically. They made a decent and intelligent man seem weak when in fact what he was attempting to do, believing it to be in Hong Kong's interest, was to win Chinese understanding and consent for his policy initiatives. So Chinese policy resulted in exchanging a scholarly diplomat for a well-connected Westminster politician. I doubt whether subsequent events made Chinese officials think this was a good bargain.

    In any event, I did not accept that my background disqualified me from taking the post. While no sinologist myself--a point that some regard as a reproof and others as an accolade--I was not as wholly unfitted for the governor's plumes as a few critics subsequently suggested. True, my arrival in the job owed more to the propensities of the people of Bath than to the experiences gained in the foothills and on the mountain slopes of a conventional diplomatic career. But I always felt, with regular twinges of embarrassment, that it was rather more to the point that no one in Hong Kong had had anything in do with my appointment.

    However, I could point to as much experience in handling Asian issues as any minister is likely to acquire in British politics. I had visited Hong Kong on three occasions, the first in 1979 as a young back bencher. The main purpose of that visit was to see at first hand how Hong Kong was dealing with an influx of Vietnamese boat people. We went to many of the makeshift camps, seeing the families who had braved the storms and the pirates to sail in usually overcrowded and leaky boats from Communist Vietnam to the capitalist haven of Hong Kong. The colonial government was doing its best to cope with tens of thousands of migrants, to whose claims for refuge the local Chinese community was generally hostile. With the colleagues who accompanied me I was also able to discuss other aspects of Hong Kong's life. At the end of that visit, two of the delegation in particular--a very likable Labour MP, Ted Rowlands, and I--pressed the Governor and his ministerial superior to introduce democracy in local government in Hong Kong. This modest suggestion reflected our genuine bafflement that in a city so sophisticated and with such a rapidly growing young professional middle class, political lobbying for democracy and civil liberties was still regarded as dangerously radical.

    From 1986 to 1989, I was Minister for Overseas Development, responsible for Britain's aid program and for our concessional, soft-loan financing of industrial projects in developing countries. I visited most Asian countries during this period, admittedly getting to know South Asia (where Britain had its biggest aid programs) better than the Southeast Asian or Eastern Asian countries. China was an exception to this. I had two long visits to China, and negotiated a large concessional financing agreement with Chinese officials; at the time, it was the largest such agreement that we had signed with anyone.

    The second of my two visits came at a particularly tumultuous moment in China's history. I attended the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank that began in Peking at the beginning of May 1989. Before the meeting had commenced, it had been thought that the main interest would be the way that China handled Taiwan's attendance at it. But we arrived in Peking at the outset of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. We found ourselves in a city bubbling with excitement and intoxicated with hope. Each day we witnessed the audacious enthusiasm of a great political carnival. Driving from our hotel to the meeting place for the conference in the Great Hall of the People, we passed impromptu political meetings at road junctions and flyovers. Young people cheered and sang in Peking's spring sunshine. Everyone smiled, including the police. "Notice," said the Ambassador, Sir Alan Donald, one of the most amiable and experienced of "old China hands," "that the police are wearing brown sneakers. You don't wear sneakers if you're going to stamp on people." He went on to explain to us that we were witnessing a sophisticated Chinese drama in which everyone knew his part and in which tradition and shared national ambition would help to secure an accommodation in which all would be able to save face. With his arms making great sweeping movements through the air, he explained that the authorities would enfold dissent rather than confront it, as though following some military maneuver from Sun-tzu's two-thousand-year-old classic text The Art of War. I recall a few journalists at an impromptu press conference in the embassy garden offering a soarer opinion of the probable turn of events.

    As the international bigwigs in town, we were able to meet Chinese leaders despite their other preoccupations. We met the sprightly old President, Yang Shangkun, the ploddingly unimpressive Premier, Li Peng (surveying us suspiciously from beneath the canopy of his huge black eyebrows), and the Party Secretary, Zhao Ziyang. Zhao met seven or eight of the visiting Western ministers one warm afternoon, sufficiently warm for us to be slightly starred by the sight of his long johns protruding below his pale gray trousers when he crossed his legs. He was an attractive man, with an enchanting smile that had somehow survived the dangerous decades of his rise to the top through the cadres of the Chinese Communist party. Zhao answered charmingly and intelligently as we asked him about rural electrification, public health, child mortality statistics, and all the other matters that crowd the agenda of aid ministers. Discreet, none of us quite dared ask about the only thing we had really discussed in private and the issue that was plainly at the top of his own mind--the milling, churning throng outside his window, their ambitions and their manifestations of raw popular power. Eventually, toward the end of the meeting, I apologized for changing the subject and asked if he would care to tell us what was happening all around us as we discussed development economics in Asia. With an almost audible sigh of relief, he produced from his pocket a card covered in headings and embarked on a tong reply. He told us he was confident that legal and democratic avenues would be found to resolve the students' demands. The students' concerns about corruption and graft were shared by the Party and the government. Zhao was articulate and convincing. He was also throwing down the gauntlet at the feet of the Party hard-liners. When this "speech" was reported on the evening news, the students in the square applauded. Zhao's more mule-headed comrades presumably began to sharpen their knives.

    I left Peking for Hong Kong a few days later convinced by the meeting with Zhao, by the sight of his dour antagonist Li Peng, and by the ebullience of the public mood in the capital that the demonstrations would end peacefully and well. I believed I had witnessed a peaceful revolution in the making. The subsequent experience made me rather more circumspect in my future predictions about Chinese politics.

    That was not the end of my Asian experiences. As Britain's Environment Secretary in 1989-90, I was involved in some of the earlier bouts of environmental diplomacy between developed and developing countries. In particular, in 1990, I chaired the London Conference, which sought to tighten up implementation of the Montreal Protocol on chlorofluorocarbons. We managed to cobble together an agreement despite some bitter arguments about technology transfer and what is invariably seen in poorer countries as hypocritical bossiness by those who have already grown rich partly through polluting their own environment. I worked in the margins of that conference closely with Japanese officials with whom I have invariably had good and cooperative relationships down the years.

    As far as Asian experience was concerned, then, the "Last Governor" was not wholly a tyro. What was the city like that I was to govern? Hong Kong, with all its flash and dash, has a partiality for parading its uniqueness. Statistics of biggest and best crowd the page. This self-conscious vanity, a manifestation in part of a neurotic search for assurance, should not blind observers to the fact that Hong Kong really is one of a kind: chop sui generis. No other place has quite the same blend of East and West, ancient `and modern, spectacular and humdrum. It is a great Chinese maritime city, crowding down to and soaring above its magnificent natural harbor. Perhaps the most absurd of all the controversies during my years in Hong Kong surrounded the proposal that Elton John should hold a concert in our main sports stadium just before the handover. Local politicians and residents' associations blocked the idea on the grounds that the singer would make far too much noise; the concert might be allowed to go ahead only if the audience listened to the unamplified music on headsets and clapped politely in cotton gloves. Yet Hong Kong is nonstop noise: clanking jackhammers, bleeping pagers and cell phones, clacking mah-jongg sets, roaring traffic, clanging trams, hooting ships. The sounds of commerce constantly serenade the visitor unless he or she is well informed enough to know that you can escape to some of the finest hill walking anywhere, in emerald highlands from whose elevations you occasionally catch the sight of a distant shore or skyscraping office block.

    Hong Kong swishes and stirs most of the better ideas that have been adduced for explaining the nature and causes of economic growth. It supports the proposition that growth is essentially an urban phenomenon, the unplanned consequences of one bright spark's energies animating the prospects for other less talented citizens. The economists call this, rather dourly, the "externalities" of growth. Both Adam Smith and Milton Friedman would find much to celebrate in Hong Kong's record. At a time when it was politically and bureaucratically fashionable in the postwar years to plan, subsidize, intervene, and control, Hong Kong's special fortune was to be blessed with a small team of colonial administrators eccentric enough to believe in free markets and cussed enough to stick to their guns despite efforts to get them to see social democratic sense. It is a mark of the extent to which the sovereign power, Britain, left Hong Kong to its own devices, guaranteeing its autonomy in domestic matters, that while the home country flirted with many of the famously well known ways of impoverishing a nation (nationalization, high taxation, rigid labor markets, excessive public spending), it allowed its colonial dependency to practice the ancient economic virtues with conspicuous success.

    Natural entrepreneurial flair, randomly and sometimes brutally suppressed at different times in China's long history, also contributed its vitality to the Hong Kong economy, and this quality was given an especially fleet-footed audacity by the fact that Hong Kong is essentially a refugee community, not roofless but markedly able to dig up and put down roots at high speed. Those who had once made fortunes in Shanghai (in textiles, for instance) only to see them stolen in the name of Marxism-Leninism remade fortunes in Hong Kong. Those who had starved elsewhere in China, especially in the southern provinces that formed the Colony's hinterlands came to Hong Kong to make a fortune for the first time.

    The Hong Kong story is at its most remarkable in the years after the Second World War. Broken-backed by war and ruthless occupation, attempting to reestablish the institutions of government and to rebuild its modest fortune as a trading center in the bleak days of the Korean War's embargo on China, Hong Kong found itself having to provide a home for wave after wave of refugees from the turbulent events of modern Chinese history. They fled from the brutalities of war and revolution, from the famine spawned by the Great Leap Forward, from the insane cruelties of the Cultural Revolution. Sometimes they climbed over barbed-wire fences to get into Britain's Chinese colony; sometimes they cheated the sharks in Hong Kong's waters and swam; sometimes they clung to the bottom of railway carriages or hid ha baskets of fruit and vegetables. They came by the hundred thousand. I remember giving lunch one day to a retiring civil servant; I always invited those at senior levels who were about to retire to join my wife and me for a meal with a group of their friends. On this occasion, the civil servant and each of his half dozen or so colleagues around the table were all postwar refugees. One ran a newspaper; another, a conservatory. Another was a banker; another, a very successful businessman; and two were high-ranking civil servants. For each one of them it was a story of rags to riches, of destitution to opportunity and success. Their families had prospered. Their children were away at universities. At least half of them had foreign passports, just in case they needed to dig up their mots again. Only one of them had arrived in Hong Kong with any money--fifty pounds, which had been stolen by a British Sikh policeman at the border. Each of their lives had been a triumphant adventure, a grand slam for the human spirit. How could a community that was built by, with, and on these men and women fail to be a success?

    And the story continued in a smaller way in much the same fashion. Sitting one year next to a tuxedoed young official, recently graduated, at the annual Civil Service Association Ball, I was told that his father, who spoke little Mandarin and no Cantonese (Hong Kong's native dialect) or English, had fled northern China for Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution. Some years later, he had managed to get permission for his wife and family to join him in Hong Kong, where he had gotten a regular though menial job. He had sent his wife enough money to buy one ticket on the slow train south, and she had sat day after day on the hard railway seat with a baby son on each knee. One of those sons was now studying medicine; the other was the first young man from his school to get a prestigious place in the administrative class of the civil service. His parents were buying their own apartment; they still spoke no English, and little Cantonese. It is a story that would resonate around the great refugee cities of America.

    But what did these refugees find in Hong Kong, and how or why did they prosper? They arrived in China's only free city; it was indeed (in the words of the Chinese journalist Tsang Ki-Fan) "the only Chinese society that, for a brief span of one hundred years, lived through an ideal never realized at any time in the history of Chinese society--a time when no man had to live in fear of the midnight knock on the door." Hong Kong had a competent government, pursuing market economics under the rule of law. It was a government that fully met the Confucian goal--"Make the local people happy and attract migrants from afar."

    During my governorship, I frequently found myself asked to explain in speeches and articles the secret of Hong Kong's success. I was never able to do better than return to two paragraphs from Alexis de Tocqueville's Journeys to England and Ireland. I first read Tocqueville while at university. What was then an obligation in order to pass my preliminary examinations became a pleasure as I discovered that he is the wisest, most perceptive, and most practical minded of political philosophers. The paragraphs that I used to quote were those I had first inserted, twenty years before, in the introductory argument of a political pamphlet entitled "The Right Approach," in which Margaret Thatcher set out, as the then Leader of the Opposition, the broad political program of the party she was shortly to lead into government.

    "Looking at the turn given to the human spirit in England by political life," Tocqueville wrote, "seeing the Englishman, certain of the support of his laws, relying on himself and unaware of any obstacle except the limit of his own powers, acting without constraint; seeing him, inspired by the sense that he can do anything, look restlessly at what now is, always in search of the best; seeing him, like that, I am in no hurry to inquire whether nature has scooped out ports for him, and given him coal and iron. The reason for his commercial prosperity is not there at alt; it is in himself.

    "Do you want to test," he continued, "whether a people is given to industry and commerce? Do not sound its ports, or examine the wood from its forests or the produce of its soil. The spirit of trade will get all these things, and without it, they are useless. Examine whether this people's laws give men the courage to seek prosperity, freedom to follow it up, the sense and habits to find it, and the assurance of reaping the benefit."

    Good government, the rule of law, and market economics transformed the battered and beggared community of the postwar years into one of the greatest trading centers on earth, the economic capital for the Chinese diaspora, and the most secure base for international investors keen to do business in China. While most journalistic attention focused on the indices of wealth, the fortunes of tycoons, and the consumption patterns of the middle class, social progress was in its way just as remarkable. Successful market economics paid for a general improvement in the overall quality of life. Where people had once wheezed and coughed and died of epidemic disease in shanty settlements, there were now soaring new estates of apartment blocks whose inhabitants lived longer and healthier lives than any in Asia except in Japan; their health statistics were indeed better than those of many OECD countries. The range and quality of welfare services--homes for the aged, kindergartens for the young, training for those with disabilities--expanded as dramatically, if not so visibly; as the communications infrastructure. Educational standards soared, with up to a quarter of young men and women entering undergraduate restitutions. Over half of these students came from public-housing complexes, and very few of them--perhaps one in twenty--had a parent whose education had extended beyond secondary school, It was a real social revolution.

    Social and economic progress had helped to reinforce the stability of a community made up of the potentially restless--just arrived and, with bags ready to pack, prepared to depart again. One good indicator of stability is crime. Crime figures had peaked in the 1980s and fell through the 1990s. According to Interpol, the figures were about on a par with those of Singapore, sometimes a little better (in 1992 and 1993, for example), sometimes a little worse (in the following two years). Hooligans in Hong Kong were not thrashed; drug pushers were not hanged; gum was not banned from the increasingly healthy teeth of Hong Kong's teenagers. But the streets were pretty safe, and Hong Kong--as my wife and I were to discover--was an easier place to bring up our youngest, teenage daughter than most European or North American cities. The precise relationship between crime and economic and social advance is impossible to gauge. Human wickedness is not circumscribed by economics, and it is of course ridiculous to behave as though there were some exact equation between, say, unemployment and deprivation on the one hand and crime on the other. It is a calumny on the virtuous poor. My experience in Hong Kong, however, convinced me that it is ludicrously counterintuitive to argue that unemployment and poverty have nothing to do with crime levels.

    Hong Kong possessed all the institutions and culture of civil society, at least all those bar one. There were churches, active in the social and educational as well as in the spiritual life. There were professions, custodians of the interests and standards of their callings. There were nongovernmental organizations providing many of the social services that would have been run by the state elsewhere--kindergartens for infants, hostels for the handicapped, "sheltered" homes for the elderly, hospices for the dying. There were more newspapers per head of population than anywhere else in the world, proof of Hong Kongers' interest in current affairs as well as in gambling on the horses. So a free society lived and breathed--up to that boundary line beyond which a governing class wrestled with the arduous choices of politics. There was freedom of a substantial sort. But there was no freedom to choose those who would be wholly responsible for even the most mundane of public services.

    It was not as if Hong Kongers had been politically lobotomized, though this was frequently argued. The Cantonese, who make up the majority of the population, are noisily argumentative and take a natural and articulate interest in political debate. Nor can it be convincingly claimed that the Chinese as a whole are uninterested in politics. The history of the past century suggests otherwise. The reasons for blocking the development of democracy in Hong Kong were not cultural; they were political. This was the sovereign power's greatest failing, allowing colonial habits of mind to survive for too long and denying Hong Kong the chance to grow its own self-confident political culture at a steady and irreversible pace.

    Naturally, there were always reasons why the time was not quite right for democracy. The postwar Governor, Sir Mark Young (1941-47), had unveiled ambitious plans for beginning the same process of democratization that was being triggered at the time in other British colonies. After his departure, and for three decades to come, the development of representative government was buried in a permafrost of official disapproval. Some of the reasons for this made passing sense. The flood of refugees into Hong Kong, and the social and economic demands they made, created administrative priorities other than political reform. There were worries that free elections would see the community polarized between supporters of the principal mainland political identities, the Communists and the Kuomintang. And there was the brooding and minatory presence of China. Treat Hong Kong like other British colonies, senior Chinese officials including Premier Zhou Enlai warned, and the territory may be deluded into thinking that it will one day share their destiny and achieve independence. Not for the last me, the Chinese Communist party's shadow was allowed to blot out the sun.

    To be fair, until the late 1970s there was no great pressure for change; people were too occupied making their way in the world--earning a living, getting a roof over their head, putting their children into school, finding the security that stormy times had so far denied them--to worry too much about democracy. When the government got too far out of touch with common feeling, a riot soon redressed the balance. But in fact this rarely happened. Without politicians, so it was argued, Hong Kong managed its affairs conspicuously well. Proconsuls ordained; officials administered; buildings rose; trade flourished; bank accounts burgeoned.

    Yet there were, of course, politicians--politicians who rose and fell on the tide of gubernatorial rather than popular approval. Hong Kong created a class of appointed politicians, a regiment of the sometimes great and the often good, drawn mainly from business and the professions, bound together by patronage, by honors, and by a mutual interest in the preservation of the existing way of doing things. It was very colonial, and the ranks of the Order of the British Empire in every class were full of those who had made this more or less benevolent system work.

    It would be churlish to belittle the immense amount of public service undertaken by many people over many years. There were some fine public servants in the ranks of those selected to help run Hong Kong. But it is shortsighted to overlook the deficiencies of this system, which at best added a local dimension to official decision making and at worst provided no more than a veneer of consultative respectability for benign authoritarianism. For a start, those who shared in government were on the whole representatives of the better-off sections of society, with a leavening of priests, social workers, and housing activists to help authenticate the whole process. It is difficult to believe that some of Hong Kong's present social and economic problems--for example, the control of property development by a small group of the mega-rich--did not partly result from this. Certainly, representatives of business became so accustomed to being able to get a sympathetic hearing at the highest levels that they regarded any democratic challenge to the system with the most profound suspicion. They even came to believe that it would be impossible to gain approval for their views about free enterprise in a democratic assembly, an eccentric belief given that there is hardly anywhere in the world more naturally receptive to the prospects and disciplines of capitalist economics than Hong Kong.

    Needless to say, when governors and ministers and the panjandrums of British public life asked these appointed advisers and those from whose ranks they were largely drawn for their views on democratic development, they gave the answers that might have been expected. No one in Hong Kong, came the pat reply, was really interested in politics; business came first--it was not a political city.

    By the late 1970s, this self-serving argument had begun to sound a little tinny. Education, prosperity, and travel had produced the same effects in Hong Kong as elsewhere. Those young men and women brought up in Hong Kong, and increasingly born there too, who, at universities at home--or in Britain, Canada, or the United States--had been encouraged to read Locke, Hume, Paine, Mill, and Popper, those who had been examined in the histories of Britain's and America's struggles for freedom, could hardly be expected to accept that in Britain's last colonial redoubt the full panoply of civil liberties they had been taught to cherish should be denied them. Where were the honor and the honesty in that? At precisely the moment that Hong Kongers were starting to notice that the return to the motherland was only just around a not so distant comer, the city saw the beginnings of serious and responsible pressure for democracy, sufficient to be noticed but not sufficient to do more than thaw the outer edges of the political frost. Faced with signs of political unease in Hong Kong, a Labour government in Britain in the 1970s concluded that the right response was social progress--above all, the construction of cheap rented housing--rather than democratic reform. I-tong Kong's democratic campaigners were left to fend very politely for themselves, a job-creation program for those members of the Police Special Branch who could be persuaded that these lawyers, teachers, and social workers with impeccably British accents and opinions represented a seditious threat

    This argument is worth elaborating because of its long-term effects. First, the political class that Britain created had the virtues and the failings of Archbishop Abel Muzorewa, Zimbabwe's never-to-be-elected Premier, in permanent waiting. It had no deep roots in the community; it was fall of befeathered chiefs attended by very few Indian braves; its loyalties were to a colonial power, not to a set of political principles. What is more, civil liberties and the values of freedom became so associated with opposition to British colonialism that when the departing colonial sovereign eventually changed its tune, a few of those who had previously attacked it for its political obduracy found it impossible to pardon the offender so late in the day. Their antipathy to British colonialism had become greater than their enthusiasm for democracy and civil liberties. So both Muzorewaites and some of the readers of Paine and Popper found themselves, as the transfer of sovereignty loomed, deserting en bloc from one colonial power, Britain, to another, China.

    The suppression of open politics also led to a political climate from the 1970s onward in which it often seemed easier to believe in conspiracy rather than coincidence, screw-up, or even what you could see with your own eyes. The passage of so much politics between the calculatedly secretive officials of the Chinese government and the culturally secretive officials of the British Foreign Office made conspiracy theories ever more exotic. Chinese officials learned to play on this mood with the virtuosity of keyboard maestros.

    For all this denial of Hong Kong's emerging and homegrown political identity, the city enjoyed a real sense of its own nature. Hong Kongers knew who they were. They were... Hong Kongers. Their sense of Britishness was choked off by the British government's decision in 1981 (which, as a young Member of Parliament, I alas supported) to redefine the rights that possession of a Hong Kong British passport imparted. While Hong Kong's counterparts in Britain's other colonies in Gibraltar and the Falklands retained the principal entitlement of citizenship---that is, the fight of abode in the country whose passport a citizen carries--Hong Kongers were left with a second-class document that only allowed them access to British consular protection and easier travel across international frontiers. The clear intention was to avoid, in the populist parlance, a flood of Hong Kong Chinese immigration into Britain once discussions with China about the uncertain future had gotten under way. This may have been "realistic," to use the adjective customarily applied when one country attempts to prevent immigration, by a group that is ethnically different, from another country. But it was hardly edifying, and it gave the distinct impression that Britain cared less about its colonial subjects than they deserved. Nothing much changed this impression subsequently, despite the decision in 1990 to give a full British passport to 50,000 families who might otherwise have emigrated in the wake of the Tiananmen murders and the decisions in 1996 and 1997 on visa-free access to Britain and on the nationality status of the small but important South Asian community in Hong Kong. If the average Hong Kong citizen thought of himself as a Hong Kong Britisher, this was despite the efforts of British politicians to prove him wrong. The cynicism of Britain's approach to this question of nationality was made manifest within months of the transition to Chinese sovereignty, when the new Labour government promised full British passports to the residents of the remaining handful of British colonies.




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