It has been a long time since Martin Lee has had reason to feel so good. The lawyer and human-rights advocate is a founder and former chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party. While Lee and other Democrats are some of the city's most popular politicians, they have little influence with the government of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hw
A:Lee has worked for months to get the world to express support for Tung's critics, and he was in a triumphant mood when BusinessWeek Hong Kong Correspondent Bruce Einhorn spoke to him the day after Tung announced that he was giving in and putting off a vote on the controversial Article 23 bills, proposals for severe new security laws that critics feel will erode freedom in the former British colony. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: A half-million people on the street, in a city of just 6.8 million. How did Article 23 opponents get so many people to the march?
A: Mr. Tung and [Hong Kong Security Secretary] Regina Ip did a lot to help us. We did advertise. And phone-in program hosts kept reminding people.
Q: Has there been anything like this in Hong Kong before?
A: This is a tremendous show of People Power. Back in 1989, the people were marching in support of those in [Tiananmen Square]. This time, they were marching for themselves. I think that Hong Kong will never be the same again.
Q: What will change as a result?
A: People will continue to want to bring democracy to Hong Kong. Many will register as voters. I see these positive things. People who weren't interested in politics now will be. The population will be much more concerned on their own rights. They are really saying "No" to Mr. Tung, a resounding "No" to Mr. Tung, for what he has been doing.
Q: And what has that been?
A: The greatest mistake that Mr. Tung made, and we were very much opposed to it, was Mr. Tung taking advice of Beijing's representative in Hong Kong. These are Communists sent down from Beijing. They have no business being here. On this bill, I'm sure that Mr. Tung took their advice from start to finish.
Q: What do you think should happen next?
A: I think that we should put ourselves together and work out a good piece of legislation, with a minimalist approach. That's the way forward....We should look at this bill afresh.
Q: Just before the July 1 rally, China's new Premier Wen Jiabao visited Hong Kong. What's your take on him and new President Hu Jintao?
A: We have hope for the new leaders. We are very happy with the new leaders. They understand that they should leave Hong Kong alone. Hong Kong people are extremely happy with the recent visit by Premier Wen. He appeared to be saying and doing the right things.
Q: What's different about his approach from that of Tung's?
A: Look at SARS. In China, two senior officials were sacked. In Hong Kong, nobody got sacked. It's ridiculous.
Q: With Tung's government so unpopular, what does that mean for his supporters -- and your rivals -- the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong?
A: I think they're in dire trouble.
Q: You've spent a lot of time trying to win support overseas. What role have other governments played?
A: The outside world has been speaking up for Hong Kong. The U.S. President used the strongest language. That elicited a statement from the British government, saying that the bill was inconsistent with "One Country, Two Systems." There was EU condemnation, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. The international forum has come to our rescue.
Q: What will be the lasting impact of the events over the past few days?
A: Once the people have participated in one demonstration, it's much easier to get them to the second and the third.
Q: You and your fellow barristers have been in the forefront of the battle. Why have the lawyers taken such an active role?
A: The barristers thought that they were giving fair and independent opinion [about the legislation during the consultation period]. But the government just treated them like dissidents. That's Mr. Tung's style. He has surrounded himself with yes men and women.
Q: Should Beijing force Tung out of office?
A: He has got himself so unpopular, and Beijing has taken note of that. But [we shouldn't] start a precedent of going to Beijing. We should make sure that the next Chief Executive will be elected by us.