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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
Hong Kong and China

Questions

What is the position of the citizens of Hong Kong with respect to the Peoples Liberation Army? Are they expecting to be drafted into the army?

McGregor: Tung Chee Hwa does not have control of the military. The military are under the control of the Chinese authorities and, as far as I know, will remain so. That being the case, citizens of Hong Kong — unless the military are called in for what one might call serious civil disturbances to the extent that Tung Chee Hwa has to call them in — then Hong Kong people should not have any form of harassment, supervision or control by the military.

So, I hope they will not have any function other than the function of providing national security. These are also dirty words in Hong Kong at the present time, because one has to decide where the national security of China begins and ends as far as Hong Kong is concerned.

Lau: I think the Hong Kong people will not be drafted to serve in the army. I think Jimmy's right in saying that the SAR Chief Executive, C.H. Tung has no control over the PLA garrison in Hong Kong, whereas previously the Governor was the commander-in-chief.

Right now we don't know what the relationship is between the Chief Executive and the PLA. So, it's all very vague and very worrying.

A few weeks ago C.H. Tung came out and said, because many people are still very pre-occupied with the June 4 massacre [in Tiananmen Square] and journalists like to ask C.H. if thinks it could happen in Hong Kong, he said, I would not allow it.

When I heard that, I was stunned. If we cast our minds back to June 4, 1989, or a few weeks before that, we remember the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in tears. He went to the square, pleaded with the students, asking them go. He could not stop the massacre.

After that appearance on the square, he disappeared and was toppled. He may still be under house arrest, or whatever.

If even the General Secretary of the Communist Party cannot stop the massacre, who is a Chief Executive of the SAR to say that he can stop it?

So, I'm sorry, Sir Jimmy, I disagree with you. It will not be under orders of C.H. if there is turmoil. C.H. will be nowhere to be seen. The central government will say the army will move in and kill Emily Lau and Martin Lee, or whatever, and that's what's going to happen.

We hope it won't happen. But that is the scenario.

What is the possibility of the influence which could be exerted by Hong Kong over democracy and human rights and the development of capitalism? What are the chances that this could be greater in the future?

Lau: In that sense, I agree with Jimmy that the future looks bleak. I have never subscribed to the theory of the tale wagging the dog.

I like to describe Hong Kong as a pimple on the bum of the Communist giant. So, if you tell me a pimple can influence a giant, you've got news for me.

Having said that, I think that next year if we manage to have free and democratic elections for even 20 of the seats — bearing in mind for the 40, the rules are rigged — it must be a significant step forward for China, because that would be the first time under Chinese Communist rule within a part of China that democratic elections are held.

People do not believe the Communists would allow democratic elections to be held. But, if they did, then I think we can take that as a sign. But, don't jump to say because it's held in Hong Kong it's going to influence the rest of China. No, I'm not that optimistic.

McGregor: I'm perfectly sure that the example of Hong Kong is already well understood in China. I'm perfectly sure that the principles and the freedoms which exist in Hong Kong and which have been built up in Hong Kong over many years, not just recent years, are well understood in China.?Even though there are no free dissidents at the moment — they're all in jail — that's one example to convince me that the amount of information pouring into China day by day, the amount of exchange of information through students and information from democratic countries have poured into China. Tens of thousands of Chinese students attending universities abroad, are going back into China to become teachers in their own right.

So at the end of the day and because I think that communism has already sounded its own death knell; communism is finished. There's no communism as far I believe. I truly believe there is no communism in China. This is a dictatorship of a party allied to the military.

And at the end of the day it's that that will be swept aside and I hope it will not be swept aside in bloody ways, in bloody battles, but by reasoned discussion and perhaps simply by the regime breaking down within itself.

I have no doubt that if Hong Kong can keep on going; [if] people like Emily Lau keep on talking for democracy, fighting and arguing for democracy in Hong Kong — even though she may not be successful; she may finish up in jail at some stage.?But, the fact is that every country which has a democratic system has had to fight for it. And that I'm sure is happening in China. I'm sure these influences are powerfully felt. Why was it necessary for the government to squash the students in Tiananmen Square? Because it represented a huge feeling throughout the country. I think that feeling is exacerbated now; it's extended now.

Miss Lau: Could you tell us what hope would be for you and your people leading into the new millennium within this new regime, given the fact that perhaps you believe that the common democracy, the common parliament, and the common rule of law has, or is about to end?

Lau: I, of course, recognize that the ultimate guarantee for a free and democratic Hong Kong has to be a free and democratic China. But that is going to take quite a long time, in spite of efforts by the Chinese people. We hope they would not brutally crushed again and again in the future.

Hong Kong people, as I said earlier, are ready for full democracy. In order to get there without a free and democratic China, it would take what Jimmy said earlier about us continuing to struggle, to speak out.

Also, we want to assure China that we are not here to subvert the Chinese Communist Party. We are just asking them to keep to the promises they made to us in 1984, when the signed the Joint Declaration saying we would have a high degree of autonomy under the concept of one country, two systems; that Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong.

We just have to continue doing that and, as Jimmy said, in the process some people will be sacrificed. We understand that. Freedom and democracy do fall like manna from heaven. We are going to fight for it and we hope that in the process our friends here will also help us.

It's not going to be easy. I hope Jimmy's wrong. I hope I don't go to jail. But, if it should happen I would be the last person to be surprised.

So, we have no illusions. But, I can assure you we will fight on.

The United Kingdom and the United States did not send their foreign ministers to the Chinese part of the ceremony. I wasn't all surprised our Foreign Minister did go. This policy has been explained in the past as the theory, or the philosophy, that trade will bring democratization and freedom. I am cynical enough to believe that China will continue to do business with countries who did not send their representatives to that ceremony. I also think symbolism is very important. Can you comment on our Minister of Foreign Affairs' presence at that ceremony. Did it make a difference one way or the other? Did anyone even notice?

Copithorne: No, it made no difference.

Lau: I think it makes a lot of difference and I was very disappointed with the performance of your government. I think it shows it said something, then refused to back it up with its own actions. When governments behave like that they invite contempt from their own people.

McGregor: I don't think it made that much difference. But, like Emily, I felt very disappointed that countries which ought to know the value of democracy and ought to know what's been happening in Hong Kong could not stand behind those who, like Emily and others like the British government and the Hong Kong who declined to attend that inauguration ceremony.

I think it was in a way disgraceful that some of the countries who profess to have democratically-elected governments, who are democratic widely in their systems and institutions, attended that ceremony. In the long run it won't make much difference, because people won't remember.

Miss Lau, it seems to me you represent a person of extraordinary courage. I think you are threatened by the Chinese gulag; you and Martin Lee and others, yet you sit here rather glibly talking about that possibility.

How do you, on a personal basis, contemplate a course of action against a highly-repressive government, which is known to assassinate, is known to imprison for long periods of time; to torture people? How do you have the courage to say, I don't care, I'm going to take this course of action, knowing there's an extremely high likelihood you may suffer a most unjust repression?

Lau: I'm not saying I'm not concerned. I've always been concerned. I have my eyes wide open to all the possibilities, the danger. But, I would not allow myself to be so frightened and intimidated as to resort to silence, because the easy way out is to keep your head down.

To some people the even better way out is to turn and support them and you get some crumbs dropped from the table, but I'm not interest in that.

Speaking frankly, I do not feel threatened yet. Maybe you think I'm foolhardy. I guess that shows you the climate in Hong Kong is not yet that repressive. When I do feel very threatened I would speak out to say I'm worried. But, I'm not. I don't think when I get off the plane next week in Hong Kong I'll be arrested.

I'm not personally concerned about my immediate safety. But, of course one thing that strikes fear in the hearts of Chinese people all over the world is the Communist government's habit of settling accounts with their enemies, whether it's week, months or years down the road. So that may happen to me. I'm aware of that.

After all, hell, you only live once. You may as well live with your head held up high, but knowing full well you may have to pay a very high price for it. I don't want to be a martyr, but I do the best I can.

When I'm in jail, then say I'm courageous. Right now I don't feel so frightened that, oh, tomorrow they're going to come, or at midnight tonight they're going to knock on the door. I don't have that fear yet.

What can people who have relations in Hong Kong, who are Canadians now, what can they do in the age of the Internet; what can we do as citizens of the world, to help promote your cause in Hong Kong?

Lau: I think trade is a blunt instrument to use against human rights. But, of course, if there are very gross violations — like in the case of Apartheid in South Africa — then I think all bets are off, even including breaking off diplomatic relations. Every possibility should be considered.

But, in terms of just normal routine communication, in influencing government, in urging them to improve their human rights record, I do not always say that we must use trade sanctions.

Because if you use trade sanctions, it hurts your own people as well as the other side. Your business people are not going to understand why they also have to suffer. So, I think this trade thing is very complicated.

But, I refuse to accept that without trade you are completely naked; you have no other weapon. I don't believe in that. There's a whole gambit of international. You engage other foreign countries in many ways.

One simple example is high level visits. That's not trade, but they are significant, too. Can you not say, well, we're not going to exchange state visits of presidents or whatever, until you show that you learned to adopt a civilized code of behaviour that other members of the international community also abide by.

But, sadly if you look at your government; you look at America, at Western Europe, Australia, they don't seem to be saying that! What I'm saying is I'm not against you engaging China, but in the process while you're trading, while you're getting all the contracts, all the money, use the opportunity to say, hey, Sonny Jim, this is really bad. If you really want to be a civilized member of the international community would you please release some of your political prisoners.

Of course, China wouldn't want to hear it. But, you are engaging them. You have all the avenues. I haven't. They won't talk to me. They haven't spoken to me for years.

So, I think that's what your government, your business leaders should be doing. So, you as a citizen of this country should use whatever avenues you have to talk to your political and business leaders. Urge them. Put pressure on them. If you agree with me, that's one way to adopt.

McGregor: I don't disagree with Emily, but there are much wider issues here involved.

When you get a country the size of the United States, for example, and you get that country in substantial competition in Western Europe in regard to aircraft being delivered to China, or huge contracts for aircraft which might look 10, 15, 25 years ahead, because once a country takes on particular aircraft it's very often a long-term policy [for] that particular kind of aircraft.

So, if China has the capability to show annoyance with any country pressing it too hard on human rights and various other things that bother the Chinese, but about which they are quite adamant, then the contracts begin to go the other way.

Witness the contract for the Airbuses that the Chinese turned into Europe, as opposed to Boeing. That sort of thing because at that moment they were very angry, indeed, about something which the Americans had done based on human rights.

The human rights issue is inevitably tied up with trade, but I would say the policy allegedly followed by the United States — one of constructive dialogue and engagement — I would say is the right policy, provided that the engagement does include what Emily has mentioned. [That is] the opportunity being taken at every place and every course and every time possible to remind the Chinese that there are particular standards which they should be complying with, through the United Nations on the one hand, through the hundred and one other international organizations which provide membership for America and for China and other countries, such as Canada.

I would say in the final analysis that countries act according to the balance of interest for the country, not for principle, necessarily. That's a hard fact of life; that when the United States considers, for instance — I've seen there's a fishing row between Canada and the United States — each country will look at, not in terms of sympathy for other person's problems, but in terms of what's the balance of interest and the balance of advantage for the country concerned.

And somehow they have to find a way of working. Each one looks to his own negotiating position and finally something comes out of it.

With China, this huge country, the power they have to place into the market to tell a country interested in doing business: You do business with us on this basis and keep your mouth shut about human rights, we don't want to have so much trouble about human rights. So just say nothing more about it and these contracts are all available to you.

This is a card which has been operated by China now for years and years. And I have to say successfully, especially with America. If America can't do it, who else can do it?

So, what I was saying earlier in terms of the development of democracy and democratic pressure inside China will come from within. It comes from the mass of information for ordinary, straight forward people; Chinese people in China, who have learned from abroad, who have learned from information pouring into the country. They can't keep the information out.

Copithorne: Of course this is a very broad, complex issue. There are many aspects and, indeed, as my two colleagues have indicated, as a blunt weapon it normally doesn't work. There are many cases of that.

It is more than human rights. We have human rights written generally, let's say normal civil freedoms. We have the question of labour standards in this country. We have a fairly hot issue about child labour and what should be done about that. We also have the environment more generally.

All of these are areas in which there is a reaction against certain conditions in the world and a frustration that we want to somehow do something about it.

A reaction of many of the developing countries, of course, is that it's none of your business. If you listen to people like Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia, he said that you are just attempting to maintain your economic advantage on the backs of the developing world by attaching what is known as this conditionality to aid and to trade and that it is highly immoral.

Looking at where we are today in Canada, I think you can see two things. First of all, Canada recently announced it would impose trade sanctions against Burma. On the plane coming down we read an article, which was the newspaper view of what this amount to.

Remember, as the article points out, Burma is a pretty safe target. Canada's total trade with Burma is in the order of $15 million a year.

Indonesia and China are very much bigger problems and it's much more dangerous to contemplate applying sanctions to them, because they will simply take their purchases elsewhere.

What Canada's done in these two cases is obtain agreement to enter into a formal dialogue about human rights or labour standards, labour conditions in the countries. This is a fairly new device. It remains to be seen whether it is more than window dressing.

In accordance with what my colleagues said, I think it's worth a try because again we've got to find a system that will permit us to express these concerns more broadly than just against a target like Burma.

I'm curious what you think the reunification of Hong Kong and China means in terms of general economic and financial strategies for Hong in the future. What can we expect of the Hong Kong economy? You mentioned it might continue to grow, but what obstacles are there to overcome in that growth?

McGregor: I said before that the one country, two systems concept has only meaning for China. It has nothing to do with politics whatsoever. It's set to recover Hong Kong and bring Hong Kong back within China as part of Chinese territory.

That having been achieved, I feel the Chinese leadership have no intention whatsoever of allowing Hong Kong to become a political embarrassment.

So, for the Chinese at least the biggest single issue is the question of how Hong Kong can continue to produce the golden egg, laying them at a very fast rate. How to bring back Hong Kong, how to keep the people of Hong Kong happy, how to settle Hong Kong in such a way that Hong Kong's famed economic strength will be maintained?

And they've done a pretty good job on that. Tung Chee Hwa I do believe will have a high degree of autonomy in the further operation of the economy. What will be a problem for Hong Kong, of course, will be how do you bring an extremely rich tiny territory back into the Chinese mould as it were?

How do you then allow that small territory of six and a bit million people to continue to enjoy the enormous advantages which they have in terms of the Chinese themselves. How do you continue the separation? How do you maintain a border, a boundary between the same people?

So, therefore how is it possible for Tung Chee Hwa with all his best efforts — even the best level of autonomy possible, how can it be maintained for 50 years? It is an impossibility. It can't be maintained for 50 years.

Hong Kong will, I'm sure, continue to be a highly successful economic entity within China. So will be Shanghai. Shanghai will build up. I don't believe Shanghai will ever be, in the present context, a serious contender for the most successful economic territory in China, But, as I see it, the further economic development of Hong Kong will be assisted by China in every way.

However, the problem of corruption, of massive additional immigration linked directly with corrupt practice — if you want to go into Hong Kong with a permanent one-way pass you pay half a million dollars or a quarter million dollars to an official and you may have your pass.

At one stage we found there were 27,000 additional people in Hong Kong who shouldn't have been there over the period of a year. How many of those came in through paying for the passes is another thing again, whereas children of poorer people waiting helplessly and hopelessly in China can't get the passes they really ought to have and that they were promised.

How long can Tung Chee Hwa continue [to allow] Hong Kong to have massive reserves, which in terms of the international financial community would represent per capita one of the richest countries in the world in terms of the reserves on money available for further development?

How can that be the case when Hong Kong with six million people has nearly the same reserves as the whole of China with one and a quarter billion people?

And if that's the case, can the Chinese government keep its hands off those massive reserves which Hong Kong has and which should long ago have been helping in the development of services for the poor and elderly.

Emily and I have both fought strongly for that and, in many cases unsuccessfully, with the Hong Kong government for many years.

Can this oasis of plenty, therefore, really continue to remain so and under separate control while China, with huge demands for funds, watches Hong Kong's funding continue in a highly successful way and watches the reserves massively increase, which would be the case if everything went well.

I think it's in the lap of the Gods and I don't think the Gods are looking fondly upon Hong Kong in that regard.