Sunday, July 1, 2007

Democracy in Hong Kong? Prove it!

As we mark Canada's 140th birthday and 47 years of real democracy (it wasn't until 1960 that Aboriginals in this country finally got the vote) let us not forget that the fight for democratic choice goes on.

One of those places is in Hong Kong. As he began his second term as the city's chief executive, Donald Tsang stated he wants to bring greater democracy to the area, which already enjoys considerable personal freedom. That's all well and good except that's what China and the UK promised ten years ago and nothing has happened yet. Tsang, like his precedessor Tung Chee Hwa, was selected by an electoral college of just 600, most of them Communist Party hacks. "Democratic" elections to the city legislature are really anything but since residents there get to pick only half of the assembly members -- the rest are basically chosen by Beijing.

Although, it is worth pointing out that there may be some positive steps already under way. For instance, an actual US-style debate was held on HK television a few months back between Tsang and his challenger -- and interestingly, both men happen to be Roman Catholic. HK also remains one of only two cities in China, the other being Macau, where open criticism of the national capital remains tolerated; people there simply will not allow Tiannanmen Square to be forgotten, nor should they.

It's hard to gauge how sincere Tsang is. After all, air and water quality have worsened in HK since the handover ten years ago and the neighbouring province of Guangdong has simply refused to listen to Tsang's pleas to enforce existing anti-pollution laws. Also last year Tsang introduced a Canadian-style GST despite massive opposition.

However, I for one am for now willing to give Tsang the benefit of the doubt. He needs to democratize Hong Kong before next year's Olympics in Beijing or his words will mean nothing at all. There should be at least one place in Red China where people are truly free -- because if that happens, the urge to spread the fever to the rest of the country and finally liberate the Chinese from their slavery will become unstoppable. It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

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