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Hong Kong May 25 & 26 - Meet with the Press Assistant to the Governor of Hong Kong


By Bob Van Leer

  NathanRoad(HONG KONG, CHINA - Saturday, May 25, 2002) - Our first meeting today was with Stephen Lam, press assistant to the governor of Hong Kong.

  He called Hong Kong the most transparent, free and liberal society in Asia. But from other sources we hear there are invisible lines. You don't know where they are until you cross them and then you are subject to discipline.

  Lam said Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China and the agreed policy of "one country-two systems" worked out with the British before the handover five years ago is being faithfully implemented. The British pulled out when the 99-year lease for parts of Hong Kong expired in 1997.

   Lam said Hong Kong's challenges are mainly economic. Real estate values have halved and unemployment is up to 7.1% from 2%. Still, everywhere we look around here we see construction cranes and new high-rise buildings going up.

  He said Hong Kong basically runs its own show. It has its own currency, own foreign currency reserve, own passport and own judiciary. The central government in Beijing is responsible for foreign affairs and national defense.

  Our next meeting was with Mrs. Rita Fan, president of the Legislative Council. She said there are 60 members of the council, 24 elected directly by the people and the balance mainly representing pressure groups. She said Hong Kong operates independently financially. Hong Kong receives no subsidy from Beijing and doesn't contribute anything to Beijing either. Hong Kong gets its money from individual (15% max.) and business (16% max.) income taxes. Currently they are running in the red because of the downturn.

  Business people we talked to said the recession began after the handover with people concerned about what might happen. Betty and I visited Hong Kong before the handover and there is no visible difference to the tourist. One jarring note here is there are several hundred thousand Filipinos here, mostly as live-in maids and child care providers. There seems to be considerable discrimination against them such as we were told they can't swim in public pools.

  It appears Hong Kong can continue running as before as long as two facts are kept in mind. One is that Hong Kong is now a part of the Peoples Republic of China and the second is that ultimate authority rests in Beijing, not Hong Kong. Copies of all bills passed by the Hong Kong legislature are sent to Beijing.

  Some of them come back vetoed.

  In the afternoon Jim Kelly, formerly of Hood River and now of Provo, Utah, and I went to the racetrack of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. This is the first time I had been to a horse track since 1993 and that was also with Kelly in Bangalore, India.

  We had to take two subway lines and a train but managed to get to the track and back with almost no problems. When we were starting to go wrong, a friendly Chinese would point us in the right direction. And the Chinese we met were universally friendly.

  In the evening we went to a reception at the Foreign Correspondents Club followed by a nine-course dinner hosted by John and Alfred Lim, industrialists and friends of our group leader.

  Sunday, May 26, was mostly a day of rest and at noon a few of us were hosted by Bowen Wong, Hong Kong tailor, to still another multi-course meal featuring Peking duck, which was excellent.

  Wong made a suit and sport coat for me and clothes for others in the party. Hong Kong is famous for turning out custom-tailored clothing fast and at reasonable prices.

  This evening we went for a boat ride in Hong Kong harbor and then packed for an early morning flight to Beijing, the last stop on our tour.

  The Harbor cruise was a winner. The boat was a reproduction of a Chinese junk. We toured the harbor at dusk as the lights were coming on. There is no energy conservation here. The buildings were ablaze and they compete with one another. On is illuminated with floodlights pointing up that must bother airline pilots. Another building 30-40 stories high is covered with colored lights that change color from green to blue to red and white. Brand names were popular in letters several stories high. It is a magnificent sight.

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