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30 Jun, 2007 04:09

Economic boom masks unease in Hong Kong

It's exactly ten years since Hong Kong was handed back to China. And to mark the occasion, Chinese President Hu Jintao is in the former British colony for the first time since coming to office.

There were dire predictions about the fate of Hong Kong when it was surrendered by a tearful Governor Chris Patten in 1997, but the worst fears for the island have not come true in the first decade of Chinese rule.

Perhaps the reason the city's seven million people enjoy a relatively undisturbed existence lies in the attitude of Beijing.

As China more and more openly seeks to integrate itself into the global economy, the success of the former British colony is something to be emulated, not punished.

And China's booming industry and Hong Kong's sophisticated financial services make for a profitable partnership.

The reward is another five-year term for Donald Tsang, who has overseen Hong Kong's recovery since the Asian economic crisis in the late nineties, and has been Chief Executive from 2005.

But the economic boom only serves to mask the undercurrent of political tension.

Tsang is not directly elected, and China has been accused of interfering with the political freedoms that it inherited after 1997.

A small group of protesters demanding universal suffrage tried in vain to get through Hu Kintao's tight security.

“Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy. The central government should not stop Hong Kong from having its own universal suffrage,” believes Leung Kwok-Hung, activist-turned-lawmaker.

A completely open election may be some way off. And many of Hong-Kong's citizens remain nostalgic for British rule. But with strong economic on growth both sides of Hong Kong's border, and China's gradual liberalisation, the story for the former colony and its big neighbour is likely to be that of convergence and not conflict.