One country, two systems, six views

June 20, 1997

At midnight on June 30, 155 years of British rule in Hong Kong cease. The handover to China raises complex questions for the colony's institutions, economy and citizens, with Hong Kong's thriving universities firmly at the core of its people's hopes and fears. The THES looks at the issues involved

Vittoria D'Alessio asks six Hong Kong lecturers where they see the colony and themselves in 2000. Elfed Roberts

Lecturer in politics and public administration, University of Hong Kong Economically, the system will continue to prosper.

In higher education there are no overt problems in the pursuit of free knowledge and in future this will depend on how aggressively the authorities choose to use Article 23 to stifle a free academic environment. The fact that statements have been made forbidding criticism of the Chinese leaders leads one to speculate.

I do not think that Hong Kong will have a major reaction to the handover of sovereignty. Riots in the streets are most unlikely. The Chinese authorities and the new Hong Kong government will probably tread very carefully over the next couple of years for very good reasons. That leaves us with a strong executive leadership, highly conservative in composition and attitude, which is willing to work with the Chinese and to compromise when necessary.

That executive will see the territory's continued growth as essential. It will probably cut government expenditure, particularly on social provision. There will also be less opportunity for the public to scrutinise government action, criticise or initiate policy. There will be a reduction in political participation and an increase in self-censorship.

The People's Republic will keep a close eye on developments - but will, at least in the short to medium term, not interfere in day-to-day governance.

Nihal Jayawickrama

Associate professor of law, University of Hong Kong Despite being a colony, Hong Kong is a free, open, liberal and relatively democratic society. Much has occurred between 1994 and 1997 that could not have been foreseen three years previously. The future is becoming increasingly difficult to predict because what we see unfolding is not a simple transfer of sovereignty but a refashioning of Hong Kong into a form that will fit comfortably within the existing regime in China. It will include the following: * the replacement of the elected legislature by an appointed one * the repeal of the operative provisions of the Bill of Rights * the introduction of laws that enable the police to subject political parties to scrutiny and to determine whether or not meetings, processions and demonstrations may be allowed * the application of the concept of "loving the motherland" and the insistence Hong Kong should not be "bad-mouthed" abroad.

But attempts to create a new Hong Kong in the image of Singapore may not succeed because Hong Kong has matured a great deal in political terms and cannot be "bottled up" except at great cost to its social stability. I had hoped to find myself in 2000 doing very much what I have done for much of the 12 years I have lived here. But my employer has decided to make me redundant from July 1.

Petula Ho

Reader in social work and social administration, University of Hong Kong I have no reason to believe Hong Kong will take a turn for the better by 2000. On the contrary. I am not only referring to the new proposals regarding public order and assembly that limit our freedoms to an almost childish level but also to the general avoidance in Hong Kong of those issues that are of paramount importance to our future. Take today's papers. A family's quarrel over a dead Chinese opera singer managed to steal the headlines over events such as the arrival of the first batch of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong. It makes me laugh and cry. By 2000 the whole city will be extremely noisy with all sorts of hysterical laughter, simply because no one has anything interesting or newsworthy to say.

When I look back on all that has happened in the past two-and-a-half years, I don't feel there is any certainty in the future.

John Hodgkiss Head of the department of ecology and biodiversity, University of Hong Kong In the three years leading up to 2000 - and indeed beyond - I have no doubts that Hong Kong will continue to be the thriving, exciting, fast-moving, magical place it has been for the past 28 years. The doubts many people have concerning the transition in sovereignty will have been removed and Hong Kong's major interests - success in business, life and the hereafter - will once more replace political uncertainty as the major subject of conversation and daily news.

My hope is that our new special administrative region government will do more than pay lip-service to our environment, which has been allowed to degenerate for too long at the altar of industrial and business development. It is time it was awarded equal significance, so that development and environmental protection can proceed side by side in a sensible and sustainable manner. In short, Hong Kong will continue to play its important role as a business centre in the region in 2000 and I will be here, either still arguing for a better environment, or celebrating the fact that we are on the way to having one.

Choi Po King

Reader in education at the department of educational administration and policy, Chinese University of Hong Kong In three years' time, people in Hong Kong will be used to having Chinese from the north as our masters, instead of the white people from Britain. Both are colonial masters, and both can be equally condescending and obnoxious, but we have held and will continue to hold them at arm's length as we go about our lives. We have, however, never lived under a communist regime before and the style of state domination and the type of hegemony will therefore be different, and in 2000 we might still be struggling to become accustomed to it. What is lacking is the space for us to reflect on how our lives and identities have been shaped, and are still being shaped, by colonialism, both British and the kind exercised by our own compatriots. I will probably still be teaching here, where we have a somewhat different battle to fight, which is to try to resist the simplistic, quantitative accounting system being imposed on higher education. Classes will be larger still and even more emphasis will be put on "output", as measured in numbers, whether in terms of items published or the scores we manage to win in our student evaluation exercises. On another front, habits that have emerged under British colonialism, such as valuing so-called international publications written in English over those in Chinese, will not change under Chinese rule. The worldwide Anglo-Saxon hegemony in academia will continue to obstruct the emergence of a healthy regionally based forum.

B.J. Duggan

Chair in materials science and engineering in the department of mechanical engineering, University of Hong Kong. He moved to HKU from Birmingham University in 1977 By 2000 Tung Chee-hwa (chief executive designate and Chris Patten's replacement) will have held elections for the legislative council, and all of the squabbles over the legitimacy of various official bodies during the transition from British to Chinese rule will be over. The government will have a strong pro-business stance, but Tung, whom I consider to be a humane man, will have brought in his own methods of assessing and dealing with grassroots concerns. The economy will be sound, but obviously performing only as well as external circumstances dictate. It is hard to conceive of a judiciary consisting of expatriates in Hong Kong under a Chinese administration, yet it is difficult to recruit local Chinese barristers to be judges, and many expatriates will have retired by then. Another equally serious point is that many people from the People's Republic of China want to come to Hong Kong for a wide variety of reasons, not just economic. Rational and fair control of immigration is essential for Hong Kong's health.

On education, it is likely that a transfer of resources from the tertiary sector to the schools will have begun by 2000, and so universities will be less well funded than they are now. This is not unjust, since our pattern of funding favours tertiary over all other sectors, and our schools are woefully underfunded. But I do not believe the administration will want to reduce the number of young people going into the tertiary sector from its present 18 per cent of the eligible age group. The pattern of education in the universities will become more identifiably North American. Falling standards at present threaten the viability of using English as the language of instruction. Insofar as external factors are concerned, I am not intending to leave Hong Kong before I retire in 2002.


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