IN late 1994 the Chinese government erected a large clock in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. It marks off the days until July 1, 1997, when Hong Kong is scheduled to return to China after a century and a half of British rule. There is growing concern about the future of the territory. Beijing has announced its intention to dismantle the reforms introduced by Gov. Christopher Patten to expand the number of directly elected members of the legislature, and there are difficulties in completing the territory's future judicial system. One person who may have a strong say in Hong Kong's future direction is David Chu. The Harvard-educated businessman is on the 37-member Preliminary Working Committee, which was appointed by Beijing to study aspects of Hong Kong's transition. He recently returned from a speaking tour in the United States with Mr. Lu Ping, the top Chinese official with responsibility for Hong Kong. Mr. Chu spoke with Monitor contributor Todd Crowell. Excerpts follow.
In recent local elections, Hong Kong's Democratic Party and its allies swept 35 of the 59 seats that were contested, yet there are no Democrats on the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC). Why?
The appointment of members to the PWC is the prerogative of the Chinese government, just as the appointment of Governor Patten was the prerogative of the British government, and not done in consultation with the people of Hong Kong. I can surmise that the reason there are no liberals on the PWC has something to do with the actions of some of the top members of the Democratic Party in the past. They have made trips to the US, where they urged that trade sanctions be imposed on China, and some have gone as far as to advocate the overthrow of the Chinese government. The Chinese government can refuse to appoint Democrats to the PWC, but once the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government is formed and we have laws consistent with the Basic Law, we would not have the right to discriminate against any party or any politician. (See glossary below.)
What will happen to the Legislative Council elected this September under an expanded franchise after 1997?
The current legislature will be disbanded on July 1, 1997, and a new one will be appointed by the Preparatory Committee. Their main task will be to write a new election law that is consistent with the Basic Law. This should take about six to nine months, after which a new election will be held and a new legislature will take over. Some of the members of the temporary legislature may be members of the old body. The primary purpose of the temporary legislature is to write a new election law. It will pass other laws only if they are absolutely essential to the running of Hong Kong. It is not the best arrangement, but we have no choice.
Some people are concerned about the rule of law in Hong Kong because of the failure so far to create a Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
China demonstrated its support for the rule of law in Hong Kong by agreeing back in 1991 to set up a court of appeal. The British government has full authority to set one up, but the problem is that the legislative council wants to change the way it is constituted. From Beijing's point of view, an agreement was reached between one sovereign entity, China, and another sovereign entity, Britain, and now Britain wants to change it. If the court [that was] agreed to in 1991 was set up now, it could be functioning before 1997. If not, then the future SAR government can set up its own. After all, there are only a very few cases before the Privy Council, and it can take years to get a judgment, so what does it matter if it takes three to six months to set one up?
It is said increasingly in Hong Kong that the press is beginning to censor itself in writing about China. Do you see evidence of this?
I admit that it exists, but I also see the opposite, a lot of criticism of China. We have 30 or 40 newspapers in Hong Kong, much more than in any American city. People here read four or five newspapers a day. These papers each have their biases, but we get a picture of things that is superior to that in the West. Freedom of expression is legal in Hong Kong, and it will be legal after 1997. If you are scared to speak up when it is legal to do so, that is your problem.
Some say Patten has fulfilled his historical mission by seeking to bring more democracy to Hong Kong, and it is now time he be recalled in the interests of smoother relations with Beijing. Do you agree?
No. I believe that Governor Patten is a very capable executive, and he is working in the best interests of his country. If I were in his shoes, I would be doing the same things. The problems that we have are with the British government, not Patten. Some local politicians with support from outside Hong Kong have tried in the recent past to influence China. They tend to put Beijing on the defensive. If anyone wants to pick a fight with China, do it across the border. China has a lot of problems, and I can't solve them, and if we get tangled in them, we can't do anything for Hong Kong. But if I can help make Hong Kong successful, that's my contribution to China.
Thousands of people in Hong Kong seek foreign passports as an ''insurance policy'' against 1997, yet you gave up your American passport. Why?
I am committed to the SAR and to Hong Kong. I want to do anything I can. Under the Basic Law, the chief executive and the other top officeholders and most of the Legislative Council must be Hong Kong residents without holding foreign passports.
Does that mean you want to become chief executive?
It all depends on the needs of the territory and the opportunities. I'm not excluding anything.