06th July 1997


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Correct handling of contradictions

Quite correctly Chris Patten, Governor Chris Patten, set the pace. It was the last lap anyway. But he didn't seem to suffer the loneliness of the short-distance runner. He did it his way. And now the last hurrah, in Hong Kong. What next? Back to Britain and politics to challenge Labour's Tony Blair?

It is the 'new' Hong Kong that will remain the much larger issue for the student of international politics in the fag-end of the 20th century. And British politics would hardly affect the world. "Great Britain" is not yet certain whether it can walk comfortably on two legs, to use a Maoist expression - "Euro" and the traditional transatlantic alliance of the cousins.

And in Hong Kong? The beginning of the end of 'the economic miracle'? Professor Shi Yinhong of Nanjing University has a short answer "modernisation," yes, but not necessarily "Westernisation,". In a contribution to the Beijing Review, he explains that modernisation is "a process that integrates the positive aspects of western civilisation with the dynamics of our own civilisation. It is foreseeable that some of these nations with vast territories, huge populations, and rich resources, will become new world powers, equipped with advanced industrial economies and mature, modern, social and political systems. That scenario will be one of the most significant outcomes of the shift in the distribution of the world's population and will represent one of the few historic changes of the last centuries".

Does this new structure of global power produce a better balance than western dominance, a prominent characteristic of the century that will end soon? Or does it point to an inevitable East-West collision course? I don't mean the old "East-West" conflict, a terminology which betrayed such western bias that the Soviet Union, the postwar rival, was the "East" not India, China, Japan etc.

Patten's Record

In his five years as Governor, Chris Patten established a record - a no-confidence motion against the governor. In a fierce fight-back, he did however emerge the winner. The other day he was asked whether he admitted failures, and if so, what did he regard his biggest failure. He had failed, he confessed, to "convince the leaders in Beijing that there was nothing to worry about... that the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong wasn't a question of planting British time-bombs around the community. The liveliness of the debate in the legislature and the local media was a good indicator that pluralism in Hong Kong will be around long after authoritarianism has been forgotten. I have absolutely no doubt that in 10, 15, 20 years time, this will be a more democratic society...."

The Russian route, in short, is the Patten thesis on China's Hong Kong. The President of the pre-July assembly, Andrew Wong, who will remain a member, told Kathy Wilhelm, a foreign correspondent, that "we can all agree he (Patten) had brought a new culture into this council. The monthly 'Question Time' and other practices we treasure and hope to maintain well after July 1st.

As Governor Patten left the chamber for the last time, the scene was pure House of Commons..... the members rose, and started to slap their desks in a true British-style tribute."

There was no "He's a Jolly Good Fellow...." to complete the proceedings however!

Market Leninism

Governor Patten called the Chinese experiment in market economics, "market Leninism". Deng Xiaoping's prescription was "One country, two systems". But governor Patten was sharp enough to recognise that the real issues were deeper. Hong Kong involves nationalism. It is this nationalism that makes national sovereignty the core issue. Nothing dramatises that fact more dramatically than the Soviet Dis-Union, the break-up of Lenin's state, the first communist state. Long before Gorbachev or Yeltsin, the Chinese elite had already recognised that economic growth required incentive, private enterprise and initiative. None of this was openly discussed - certainly not with visitors. But there was an exception. If one did pose questions about economic reform, individual initiative, profit etc., with Chinese officials, the inquisitive visitor soon finds new "interviews" on his "program" - this columnist's experience on his first (official) visit to the People's Republic of China.

What followed were conversations at small, not too well known, "institutes".

There the inquisitive journalist or academic would soon be exposed to "the new thinking", a tribute to the authentic architect of the "new" China.

Deng Xiaoping

While walking on two legs "China will concentrate on trade, its special strength, traditionally. (Remember those Chinese travelling salesmen, armed with textiles, and touring the remotest villages of this island), Foreign trade will generate business opportunities worth 700 billion US dollars in 1997-2000, said Prime Minister Li Peng when he addressed the 32nd world congress of the International Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai last April. By the turn of the century, foreign trade, 290 billion dollars in 1996, will reach 400 billion by the turn of this century.

Prime Minister Li used the occasion to warn the affluent nations and the international agencies, that there is a time-bomb ticking away - the fate of the Third World, "developing" countries. Inspite of the "claims" by some agencies and spokesmen of the affluent countries, "a widening gap in wealth and an inequitable exchange of goods and services are damaging their interests." Only a fair and equitable economic order could ensure a stable and peaceful world.

Though there has been a general "shift" from the political to the economic in the post-Cold War global debate, China remains convinced that violent conflicts and chronic instability are a by-product of poverty and an unjust economic order.

Deng Xiaoping's 'one country, two systems' is a reminder that Hong Kong was the only "external" issue. There is Taiwan.... and of course. Taiwan made the front-page when US warships moved into the Taiwan straits in the face of what the US Defence Department described as a Chinese "threat" to Taiwan. The day after the celebrations in Hong Kong, President Jiang Zemin urged the leaders in Taiwan to draw a lesson. The message: re-unify with a stronger, increasing prosperous motherland. "The prospect of complete national re-unification now stands promisingly in sight...." declared Jiang Zemin. The recommended formula is another Deng Xiaoping invention. But ideology remains an irremovable obstacle. Taiwan would never accept communism or the one-party system, declared Vice President Lian Chen. For him multi-party democracy is non-negotiable.

And he can rely on an American flotilla to back his answer - as we did see last year. And in Tibet the Dalai Lama maintains a deafening silence. But China can wait. It has its own sense of Time.....

"Swiftly the years beyond recall.

Solemn the stillness of this fair morning...."

(Translated by Arthur Waley)

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