Colony’s future political system in question

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    By SHAWN DICKERSON

    Since 1898 Great Britain has controlled the government and political system of Hong Kong. As the colony returns to the rule of the Chinese on July 1 of this year, many questions have been raised about the future of Hong Kong’s political system.

    Since they gained control of the colony in the late 19th century, the British have ruled Hong Kong through an appointed governor and legislative council. In anticipation of the 1997 turnover, however, the British began to pass laws in the early 1990s that provided for a more democratic government, including some direct elections.

    These political changes have met with much criticism from the Chinese government. They refer to a joint agreement made with the British in 1984, in which both countries agreed to leave the Hong Kong government as it was at the time. The Chinese said they find the British changes of the early 1990s to be a breach of that agreement, and have said they will revoke them.

    “China promised to keep … the political system in Hong Kong,” said Xiong Zhiyong, dean of academic studies at the Foreign Affairs College in China. “[But] they want to go back to the old laws, before the early 1990s.”

    According to Eric Hyer, BYU professor of political science, while the Chinese government sees the recent political changes as a violation of their 1984 pact, the British simply see them as formalizing many items that are included in British common law, but not in Chinese law.

    Hyer said that for nearly a century the British have ruled Hong Kong with very little democratic input from the people of Hong Kong. The Chinese government has said that this will be the basis for the new government — and that it will be very similar to the pre-1990s political system.

    The colony of Hong Kong will exist as a Special Administrative Region of the Chinese mainland with a government that is both distinct and included in the government of China.

    “Generally speaking, I don’t think the Chinese government will touch the Hong Kong system,” Zhiyong said. “Hong Kong will be governed by the local people.”

    A selection has already been made for the new governor of Hong Kong after the turnover.

    Hyer said the Chinese government appointed a 400-person transition committee made up of officials from the Chinese mainland and influential Hong Kong citizens. This committee chose between three candidates and selected the man that will serve as the region’s governor. The man is native Hong Kong Chinese.

    After the turnover, this committee will become Hong Kong’s provisional legislature and China expects to hold some restricted elections as early as one year after the turnover, Hyer said.

    Hyer said a native of Hong Kong told him that while the political changes of the British are the right thing to do, they are simply too little and too late.

    Had the colony’s government been seeking greater democracy for several decades, the reaction of the Chinese government may have been different.

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