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Hong Kong Handover Anniversary Wednesday, 1 July, 1998, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Hong Kong: Who was wrong?
Protest against unemployment and economic problems
Anniversary or not, dozens protested
By the BBC's Chinese Affairs Analyst, James Miles

Wednesday, July 1st, has been the first anniversary of the handover of the former British colony of Hong Kong to China. Britain and other Western governments have praised China for its handling of the transition, and even politicians in Hong Kong who had strong concerns about China taking over say they see little sign so far of direct interference by Beijing.

A year ago, in the tropical downpour that drenched Hong Kong as the British flag was lowered for the last time, the atmosphere was not one of panic or even fear.

Chinese armoured personnel carriers and trucks with troops carrying machine guns rolled through near empty streets to their new barracks. No-one tried to block their entry.

But there were certainly widespread concerns at that time that Hong Kong might slowly change. Many were worried that what was once a prosperous British colony with an outspoken media might become, over time, as politically restrained as mainland China.

Demonstrations continue

In fact Hong Kong today does not feel restrained at all. As announced by the administration in waiting before the handover, some laws have been changed in a manner that on paper would appear to curtail civil liberties.

But in practice, people continue to demonstrate against their own government and against Beijing without interference. No Chinese dissidents in the territory have been arrested.

So were the worryers wrong about Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong? Or is it too early to tell?

One view is that the British and pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong had indeed failed to appreciate the extent of China's evolution since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests and the degree to which the leadership in China had overcome its fears of Hong Kong becoming a launching pad for revolution on the mainland.

Beijing relaxation

The last year in Hong Kong has coincided with a period of relaxation in Beijing, where the government has been allowing somewhat freer public debate on some issues.

Few had anticipated the leadership would feel confident enough to loosen its grip so soon after the death of the elder statesman Deng Xiaoping in February last year.

More surprising to many observers has been Beijing's ability to stop parts of its own bureaucracy from interfering in Hong Kong. Many had believed the chief threat to the territory came not from the central government but from provincial officials eager to get a share of Hong Kong's wealth.

Maintaining vigilance

China has good motives for wanting to keep Hong Kong as it is - not least its desire to persuade Taiwan to accept the same formula for reunification and its eagerness to ensure that Hong Kong remains a major source of hard currency investment in the mainland.

But some politicians in Hong Kong say vigilance should be maintained. The leader of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee, warns that China's political climate has always swung from hardline to liberal and back again.

If many were wrong about the last year, they might be just as wrong in predicting a rosy future.

BBC News
President Jiang Zemin: Hong Kong has been a great success over the past year
BBC News
BBC correspondent Jill McGivering reports on Hong Kong's anniversary celebrations
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