Hong Kong's Threat to China

Last month's massive demonstrations in Hong Kong, when over half a million residents poured into the streets in protest against the government of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, continues to echo. Never in Hong Kong's history has popular opposition--uniting investment bankers, street hawkers, off-duty civil servants, and artists, among others--been so loud. China's communist rulers are dithering about how to respond.

One objective of the demonstrators was to voice their desire to select Hong Kong's future leaders through universal suffrage. Today, 800 electors handpicked by the mainland Chinese government -- who mostly represent big business -- choose Hong Kong's Chief Executive.

The unpopularity of Hong Kong's incompetent and sycophantic Chief Executive, chosen by China for a second five-year term that will only end in 2007, creates a grave dilemma for the country's communist rulers. Before July's protests, they hoped that Hong Kong would provide so attractive an example of the idea of ``One Country, Two Systems'' that Taiwan would be lured into accepting the sovereignty of the government in Beijing. Now Taiwan's leaders point to Hong Kong as a failed model of a flawed concept.

Indeed, Mr Tung's anticipatory subservience to the real or imagined wishes of China's rulers exposed the congenital flaw in the political architecture of uniting a liberal society with a dictatorship. That flaw infects the heart of the ``One Country, Two Systems'' notion: the idea that genuine autonomy can exist in a country whose supreme leaders do not believe in rule by consent.