I won't pretend to be a scholar or make any kind of predictions about the future of Hong Kong and Macau after both these "colonies" revert back to the Chinese. The issues are too large, too deep, too complex, and too damn Asian for someone like me to worry my pretty little head over.
But before we left our home in Alaska, I was surprised to learn how many people we met who were intensely interested in this phase of our journeythe waning days of Hong Kong. And so I promised I would look into it for their sakes, being responsive to the special needs of our subscribers.
And I did. Everywhere I went in Hong Kong and Macau I asked people, "What will happen in the future when China takes over in July, 1997?"
And the answers were nearly always the same: "nothing."
Lowly restaurant waiters, shop keepers, English settlers working the stock markets, a movie maker, a tea pot dealer, a prostitute, taxi drivers, guest house owners, all kept shrugging their shoulders and saying they didn't think anything would be different.
All, except that is, a seemingly small group of students who, while we were there, staged a dramatic sit-in protesting the arrival of a Chinese leader. They wanted assurances that free speech would remain, and in the typical Chinese communist way he assured the newspapers and grinning Hong Kong leadersand of course the International business community, but I noted not the studentsthat of course free speech would remain, with some special restraints, gag orders, party sanctions, and unilateral understandings about what constitutes "free," and I suppose what constitutes "speech."
I didn't get to talk with the students since they were busy defending their skulls from the blows of police clubsbut I can guess they were not pleased with either the answer or the support their present government showed them for their free speech.
Again, I'm not about to step in the middle of this one. Plus, as I write this I'm still in Asia and hoping some government leader will look kindly on our family and take us in, sponsor our family travel efforts in exchange for good humored lies about how wonderful their country is and how the issue of human rights should not be confused with the time-honored traditions of slow death executions, abusing peasants, women, children, and for that matter all living things. These are clearly two separate matters.
However, I have to take just a moment to make a brief editorial judgment and I'll try to come right to the point.
Are these people nuts! Are they living under one giant opium cloud? Have all the rose colored glasses of the world been shipped here? It's no secret that for the last two decades Hong Kong money has been steadily buying up every available house and business on the West Coast of America and Canada. Has this been going on because they're content that all will be Hunky Dory when the change comes?
OK, OK, OK. I'll back off. It's none of my business anyway. And who am I to think it possible that a rag-tag bunch of Hong Kong students may have their pulse on more than a police baton.
We did meet a man in another Asian country who seemed to share my concern for what's ahead. He seemed to have a more practiced and sensible view of the situation than me, and he passed on his wisdom when he said, "Nothing much will happen when the changeover occurs. A lot of close watching, collecting names, that sort of stuff. Maybe a few arrests of the real dissidents. But in five years, after the rest of the world has forgotten the promises and changeover, the hammer will fall."
It seems, however, that even this insight may be too rosyas I write this article in Bangkok, Thailand, the front pages of the English-language newspapers tell grim stories about the Chinese government, which has already moved against the people of Hong Kong to disband their elected transition body, and in the heavy-handed move the Chinese have called the British "cowards." The issues heat up daily.
Who knows? I certainly don't. But I had an obligation to our subscribers to ask, and there it isour report from the front lines.