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UPDATED: June 18, 2007 NO.25 JUN.21, 2007
A Decade to Remember
A closer look at what has changed and what has not, on the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China

Furthermore, Hong Kong has consolidated its position as a preeminent financial, trade and shipping center of the world. For the past 13 years, it has been dubbed the freest economy by the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation. The city is the 11th largest economy in the world. Hong Kong has surpassed New York to rank number 2 after London in terms of IPO listings. Its shipping volume has been listed as the highest in the world for 13 consecutive years. Its per-capita GDP in 2006 reached $27,100, creating a historic new high. The unemployment rate has dropped to 4.3 percent, its lowest level in five years. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Stock Index has soared from 15,200 in 1997 to 21,000.

Hong Kong has also been chosen to host the 2008 Olympic Equestrian Events. This is the first time the city will hold an Olympic event. This, together with Margaret Chan's election as WHO Secretary General, have further enhanced Hong Kong's image.

"The past 10 years saw some ups and downs, but in general, it was a decade of success. There are aspects that allow us to be proud, " Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of the HKSAR Government, told Beijing Review. "Hong Kong is more consolidated, more mature than it was before 1997. It knows its way ahead more clearly."

The chief executive's words were echoed by Wong, the fish dealer. "I enjoy my life more than I did before 1997." He now spends a great deal of time on grassroots welfare, making proposals to the SAR administration to improve his neighborhood transportation facilities. Wong believes his efforts can make Hong Kong a better civil society to live in.

There are some who are seemingly even more optimistic. Jack Maisano, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong, told Beijing Review that as many as 98 percent of AmCham members had expressed their satisfaction with the business environment of Hong Kong in general.

"For the past 18 years, we have been conducting a survey every year, to gauge our members' attitude on the overall business environment in Hong Kong. Over the past five years this survey has produced some of the most optimistic readings for the Hong Kong economic and business environment in the history of the survey," said Maisano.

The AmCham chairman attributed the key reasons for this optimism to the improving economic situation around the world, increasing economic progress in China, Hong Kong's economic integration with and proximity to the Chinese mainland, as well as the "support and help that China's mainland has given to Hong Kong."

"The fact that Hong Kong is part of China is exactly where the city's advantages lie," said Maisano. The economic development of the Chinese mainland has brought ongoing opportunities to Hong Kong, and the appeal of the city to international investors is unprecedented, said the AmCham chairman.

Keeping the faith

Confidence in a dynamic Hong Kong is a direct result of the successful implementation of Deng's "one country, two systems" principle and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region of the People's Republic of China, say experts analyzing the past decade. The "one country, two systems" principle was created by Deng to address the Hong Kong issue and others alike. The framework defines that within China, the mainland maintains the socialist system, while Hong Kong continues under the capitalist system. "Our policy toward Hong Kong will not change in the coming 50 years [after its return to China]. We will keep our promise," said Deng when addressing delegations from Hong Kong in 1984.

"The system is genius in two aspects. 'One country' recognizes the unique history that Hong Kong is part of China and had been under 150 years of British rule. ‘Two systems' abides by both the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong," said Maisano. Hailing the practice a "big success," Maisano said he had heard businesspeople term what Hong Kongers are enjoying as "an ultra high level of autonomy."

"Comparing the present situation with that before 1997, we find the level of freedom is much higher," said Joseph C. K. Yam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Monetary Authority. "Previously, if things happened, we had to call or send telegraphs to London. These practices stopped after 1997. Hong Kong people are ruling Hong Kong in its real sense."

"The Basic Law provides an unprecedented guarantee of basic human rights and freedom in Hong Kong," declared Wong Yan Lung, Secretary for Justice of the Department of Justice, the Government of the HKSAR. "The past 10 years have not only seen maintenance of the Basic Law but also development of the Law."

He further stated that since the Basic Law is in Chinese, local citizens understand it better. Before 1997, it was difficult for a citizen who could not speak English to file a lawsuit; he or she had to hire an English-speaking person to be an agent. Now it is much easier, as the Chinese language does the job.

"The implementation of 'one country, two systems,' as well as the principles enshrined in the Basic Law, are acknowledged by the local people and the world, including the British parliament and the U.S. Congress," Fan told Beijing Review. "The principle is just like a plant, which is rooted, though not deeply. The plant is now growing into a big tree."

The political development of Hong Kong, however, is still a process. Wong, the Secretary for Justice, admitted that there were some controversies surrounding the political development of Hong Kong. "Under new circumstances, there is space for problems to rise, " he said. Hong Kong, with a new identity, has a long way to go with respect to political development.

Still evolving

Tsang listed Hong Kong's political development as one of the challenges of the future. He said the government has a concrete plan for dealing with this issue. "This summer we will issue a green paper on political development, to address the issue of universal suffrage."

The environment is also on his mind. "Raising the living standard of Hong Kongers, especially in terms of air quality, is a priority."

Recent polls show that the environment and pollution are a top concern among Hong Kong residents, including its temporary ones, and also among its elected heads, considering the fact that the government wants to attract skilled professionals to settle in Hong Kong over the long-term. For starters, Hong Kong has successfully implemented clean fuel programs, in which LPG-using vehicles have been exempted from fuel duty.

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