HK "freer" and "more civilised" than under British
HONG KONG |
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong is freer, more civilised, more open and economically more robust than it was under British rule which ended a decade ago, the city's leader, Donald Tsang, said on Friday.
Hong Kong will mark the 10th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule in July, an event that engendered perhaps equal measures of pride and hand wringing among people here who were happy to be Chinese but worried for their freedoms under the authoritarian regime in Beijing.
"It's a freer place now than before ... politically, certainly more," Tsang told a select group of journalists when asked how the territory had changed since the end of colonialism.
"One can say Hong Kong is a much more civilised place, much more open society, and perhaps economically more robust, having gone through the Asian financial crisis."
Not everyone agrees with Tsang's rosy portrayal of Hong Kong today. His opponent in Sunday's Chief Executive election, Alan Leong has highlighted a litany of problems dogging the territory from worsening air quality to underinvestment in education, which Tsang has acknowledged.
For most of Britain's 150 year rule, Hong Kongers had little say in their own city's affairs. Now there are more chances for involvement, including directly electing half of the 60-seat legislature.
But Hong Kong is not left 100 percent to its own devices.
Under the handover agreement between Britain and China, Hong Kong was to remain highly autonomous for 50 years, setting all its own policies except defence and foreign relations.
In recent years, Beijing has intervened to control the pace of political reform.
A career civil servant in Hong Kong who worked in the British system for 30 years, Tsang was made a knight at the end of the colonial era, a title he does not use in Hong Kong but which he has not renounced.
Tsang is widely expected be re-elected when an election committee of 795 members stacked in Beijing's favour votes on Sunday.
In Hong Kong's post-handover constitution, known as the Basic Law, universal suffrage is the clearly stated goal, and Tsang said on Friday he wanted to settle the universal suffrage problem by 2012, though it would require consensus.
"This has bothered this administration for 10 years. If we don't get a result in the next five this will become a real burden for whoever is going to succeed me," he said.
"We have to design this thing carefully, which suits our circumstances -- a design of universal suffrage which will not turn us into a welfare state, which will not undermine our prosperity and stability, and which will not undermine our good relations with the mainland.
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