China has been celebrating the five year anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland from British rule. Firecrackers, dragon dancers, and President Jiang Zemin's visit marked the festivities. Now that China's rulers have returned to Beijing, it is time to take a more realistic look at what those five years have wrought.
Hong Kong's ruling elite delights in telling foreign visitors how wrong pessimistic predictions of the territory's have proven to be. Fortune, for example, once entitled a cover story "The Death of Hong Kong." That article forecast heavy-handed meddling by Beijing in local affairs, which would allegedly emasculate the vitality of Hong Kong's economy. The article was wrong, because Hong Kong's deepest wounds have not come from China's ruler, but are self-inflicted.
Tung Chee Hwa, Hong Kong's leader, insists that the "one country, two systems" scheme devised by Deng Xiaoping works perfectly. The Financial Secretary, Anthony Leung, last year boasted that Hong Kong would become Asia's "Manhattan Plus." Chief Secretary Sir Donal Tsang calls negative assessments of the territory the product of second-rate minds.
But official bravura has little sympathy beyond this narrow circle. Among Hong Kong's public, there is a pervasive feeling that it has changed for the worse since 1997 -- not as a result of overweening interference from Beijing, but due to worrisome decisions made by local rulers.