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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
China's delicate balance with HK
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

A schoolboy in China waves a Chinese national flag and a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) flag at a handover anniversary event in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province
China has mostly allowed Hong Kong to administer its own affairs

When Hong Kong was handed back to China 10 years ago, many people feared that Beijing would establish an iron grip on the former British colony.

Despite China's assertion that it would abide by the agreed "one country, two systems" formula, critics believed Beijing's authoritarian government would not be able to stop itself from meddling in Hong Kong's affairs.

But 10 years on, those fears have mostly proved groundless.

Although there are complaints, Hong Kong has in the main been left to govern itself, and is as about as free as it was a decade ago.

This week, BBC News is taking an in-depth look at the territory, 10 years after it was handed over from British to Chinese rule. Stories include: democracy, pollution and what happened to the British.

"Not many people now think the mainland will strangle Hong Kong," said Nicholas Bequelin, of the US-based group Human Rights Watch.

"China has exercised its sovereign power over Hong Kong on issues that it views as critical but, other than that, Hong Kong has been largely left alone," added the Hong Kong-based spokesman.


Not surprisingly, this is a view also held by senior officials in both Hong Kong and Beijing.

Donald Tsang, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's newly reappointed - and Beijing-backed - chief executive certainly says so.

On the Hong Kong government's website he declares: "Hong Kong people are running Hong Kong with the high degree of autonomy that was promised."

And Beijing is even more emphatic on that point.

When Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, laying out handover terms, Beijing promised that Hong Kong's society and economy would remain unchanged.

Candlelight vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown is held in Hong Kong on 4 June 2007
Protests are allowed in Hong Kong where they would not be in China

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a recent press conference that this commitment had been "conscientiously observed and implemented".

Ordinary Hong Kong people have even shown they can shape their own destiny.

A controversial anti-subversion bill was withdrawn after half a million people staged a street demonstration against the proposal in 2003.

Undemocratic elections

But it is not actually quite the case that Beijing has left Hong Kong alone.

China should allow Hong Kong to develop democracy and then when it sees how well it works it can copy us
Martin Lee
Hong Kong's Democratic Party

The joint declaration that promised a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong also made it clear that Beijing had the ultimate power to decide the territory's future.

Perhaps the most notable example of this power comes in Beijing's refusal to say when it will allow Hong Kong's chief executive and Legislative Council to be elected by universal suffrage.

The chief executive is currently chosen by a largely appointed electoral college.

China's then President Jiang Zemin promised such elections in his speech at Hong Kong's handover ceremony, but Beijing has not yet said when it will allow them.

In 2004 it ruled out universal suffrage for this year's chief executive election and next year's Legislative Council elections.

And comments made by current Chinese President Hu Jintao to Donald Tsang at a ceremony in April, to confirm the Hong Kong leader's re-selection, do not appear encouraging.

Mr Hu said democracy in Hong Kong should "proceed systematically".

View from Hong Kong's Victoria Peak
Hong Kong is governed under a 'one country, two systems' formula
These words might not seem particularly profound, but in a country where political leaders rarely reveal what they are thinking, the remarks led some commentators to suggest that universal suffrage is still a long way off.

Martin Lee, one of 30 directly elected representatives in Hong Kong's 60-seat Legislative Council, and chairman of the Democratic Party, said such elections were needed if the territory's unique status was to be maintained.

"Freedoms are as good in Hong Kong at the moment as before, but how long can we preserve these freedoms without democracy?" he said.

Hong Kong has made much more progress in the last 10 years
Shahid Shahid, Chicago

There were already signs that China was trying to erode some of the territory's rights, he said - by, for example, putting pressure on Hong Kong's judges.

If it did grant Hong Kong's people the right to chose their own leader through broad-based elections, Beijing could also learn something for itself, said Mr Lee.

"China should allow Hong Kong to develop democracy and then when it sees how well it works it can copy us," he explained.

But that is a lofty hope. Despite Hong Kong's freedoms, China's Communist Party has so far shown no signs of wanting to relinquish its ultimate hold over the territory.

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