Saturday :: Mar 27, 2004

You Are Only As Free As We Let You Be

by pessimist

There has been a fair amount of attention paid of late to the US-stage-managed Iraqi "Constitution" - you know, the one where the US maintains veto power over anything they do?

After months of concern about the legal status of the 110,000 American troops who are expected to remain here after the occupation formally ends on June 30, the officials say they believe an existing United Nations resolution approving the presence of a multinational force in Iraq, approved by the Security Council in October, gives American commanders the authority needed to maintain control after sovereignty is handed back.

This is heinous, but is hardly new. Think back to 1997. The Crown Colony of Hong Kong was formally returned to Chinese suizerainty upon the lapse of a 99-year "lease" on the surrounding New Territories, the suburbs of Hong Kong.

While the Chinese government promised a "special policy" concerning the governance of Hong Kong, there were many fears that this promise would have a serious catch-22. Said catch may have been found:

China warns HK over democracy

A Chinese newspaper regarded as the mouthpiece of official policy, has warned Hong Kong to expect chaos if it persists with demands for democracy.

Sounds similar to Bremer: Iraq elections could be 15 months away

Bremer told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television station that it could take "a year or 15 months and may take longer" to arrange an election. Bremer cited the absence of electoral laws and voter rolls as the main obstacles to a speedy vote.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, demanded elections to choose a legislature before the planned June 30 transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to the Iraqis.

Now, let's make a couple of substitutions in the Chinese announcement above and see how it fits:

A Iraqi newspaper, regarded as the mouthpiece of official Coalition policy, has warned Iraq to expect chaos if it persists with demands for democracy.

Kinda fits, doesn't it?

The Chinese Government promised :

Hong Kong would be governed by the people of Hong Kong. The existing social and economic systems in Hong Kong and its way of life would remain unchanged. The political and economic systems and even the majority of the laws currently in force in Hong Kong may continue. Capitalism will continue to be practiced in Hong Kong.

BUT ...

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be directly under the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China. With the exception of foreign affairs and defense, which are the responsibilities of the Central People's Government, the future Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The Central People's Government will station troops in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to conduct defense. The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be composed of local inhabitants. British and other foreign nationals may be employed to serve as advisors or hold positions up to deputy department directors in the government.

Beginning to sound more like the US plans in Iraq?

In his speech delivered at the power transferring ceremony, President Jiang Zemin emphasized that after Hong Kong is returned to China, the Chinese government will firmly pursue the basic policy of "one country, two systems", "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong" and ensuring a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. The existing social and economic systems in Hong Kong and its way of life will remain unchanged. He expressed the confidence that with the strong backing of the entire Chinese people, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the people in Hong Kong can certainly run Hong Kong well, ensure its long-term prosperity and stability and create a bright future for Hong Kong.

So let's look more closely at what changed in seven years.

Taiwan's president was re-elected by the narrowest of margins after an apparent assassination attempt and the opposition has asked for a recount. The commentary in the China Daily expands on a theme already being voiced by pro-China politicians here in Hong Kong. They have described Taiwan's election chaos as democracy gone wrong. The article in the China Daily says that if democracy is fostered in a radical way that is more than the local community can handle, the inevitable outcome is the disruption of social order. This can lead to the paralysis of governance and social chaos, it says. Analysts interpret this as an attack on the campaign in Hong Kong for the introduction of universal suffrage by 2007.

Yeah, yeah, let's cut the bureaucratese and come clean with the real issue!

Beijing fears that allowing so-called full democracy in the former British colony could stir ambitions for independence.


Let's swing back to Baghdad and see how it jibes there:

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Sunni council member, said it would take at least a year to prepare for elections. "I consider Bremer's statement as rational and realistic because successful elections cannot be done in less than one year," Othman told The Associated Press.

"In my opinion, the important thing is not to have elections. The important thing is to have good results that would save us from troubles that might erupt due to badly prepared elections."

The US certainly wasn't silent over the prospects for the Hong Kong handover to affect US interests, as this synopsys demonstrates. Considering some of the points raised in this article (note particularly the Chinese diplomatic activities in Saudi Arabia and Iran), who's to say the the US plans in Iraq wouldn't someday affect Chinese interests?

Either way, I suggest that watching how China deals with the democracy movement in Hong Kong will parallel the development of US handling of demands for Iraqi sovereignity - "You Are Only As Free As We Let You Be"

You can read more about the implied Chinese threats to Hong Kong democracy here.

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pessimist :: 10:41 AM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!