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Yesterday, as it happens, I read an article in Le Monde Diplomatique for July 2007 about Hong Kong. (A l'avant-garde du libéralisme par Anne-Laure Delatte, in French).

Her article mostly deals with economic and social matters, but she points out the issue of the "functional constituencies", the consequence of which is that the parliament is not elected by universal suffrage. She sees this as an inheritance from the British that suits the Chinese government while not bothering most inhabitants of HK :


Héritage des négociations de rétrocession entre Britanniques et Chinois, ce système se comprend mieux si l'on se souvient que Hongkong est aussi une ville chinoise : le conservatisme économique va de pair avec un conservatisme politique favorable au régime de Pékin. Pour ce dernier, le risque de prolifération idéologique est trop élevé pour laisser une démocratie à suffrage universel se développer sur un territoire chinois, même autonome. Aussi, tout comme sur le continent, la prospérité économique est un élément-clé d'un statu quo politique fondé sur un postulat : le régime ne sera pas remis en cause par la population aussi longtemps que l'économie restera florissante.

Legacy of the retrocession negotiations between British and Chinese, this system can better be understood if one recalls that China is also a Chinese city : economic conservatism goes hand in hand with political conservatism favourable to the Pekin regime. For the latter, the risk of ideological proliferation is too high to let a universal-suffrage democracy grow on Chinese territory, even autonomous. So, as on the continent, economic prosperity is a key element in a political status quo based on a postulate : the regime won't be questioned by the population as long as the economy is flourishing.

My own feeling is that there is no doubt about the responsibility of British imperialism for the lack of democracy in HK; but neither do I have too many illusions about the Chinese leadership's will for democracy anywhere it holds power.

Isn't there a parallel between this and, more broadly, the profits Western capital is making in China while keeping quiet about human rights and democracy?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 09:54:38 AM EST
that China is also a Chinese city

Hong Kong, obviously!

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 09:57:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no pretensions about what the Chinese are or why they do the things they do.

It's this pretension that the Anglo-Saxons have about bringing democracy and a better life to the colonials in whatever way they are described by the English-speaking press, that I really find objectionable.  

by zoe on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 10:09:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No disagreement from me.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 01:04:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
no disagreement?  what fun is that?
by zoe on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 01:51:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I fundamentally disagree that we're here to have fun disagreeing. Agree with me or else.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 03:02:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me, as a non-Brit, defend the British colonial record at least a little.  I don't know much about the record on British democracy and equal treatment of colonized countries, nor will I defend the exploitation that took place as a integral part of colonialsm.  I have heard the venom spewed by quite a few former colonial subjects so I have no illusions about the lack of perfection in the system. However, I have visited many of the former colonies and based on that and what I was taught in school (which pretty much jives with what I've seen), the British left most colonies, including Hong Kong, in pretty good shape financially and with a good basic governmental organization, common law, and a system of education. Contrast the former British colonies at independence with those left by other European countries and then begin the criticism afresh.  The declines that have taken place in some former British colonies can be laid at the feet of poor governance that arose after independence.  I expect thaqt Hong Kong will continue to flourish, however, even under the new Chinese Govt.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 02:09:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're comparing apples with oranges. Hong Kong was a rich financial centre and trading post for goods manufactured in mainland China long before its lease ran out. It was and is in good financial shape thanks to its unique situation.

But if we look at other ex-British colonial properties, I don't see the evidence for such great management. Do you think the way Britain left India was a model? Rhodesia-Zimbabwe? Kenya? Uganda? Er... Dare I mention Iraq?

Even our former American colonies don't seem to know what to do with their Constitution these days... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 02:56:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For some reason, your comment convinces me even more that empires never did any favors:  Exploitation is the keyword in colonies and they were set up with the best system for exploiters, even if that meant building a railroad.  

There was government, law and education for the few of them, but not for the colony, so when the exploiters "had to leave", there was no trained, experienced people to run a foreign system:  That´s now blamed on the colony as "bad governance".  If natives had ever been educated and integrated into the system, they may have been able to adapt, but the people were disposable and the resources were not.


Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Fri Jul 6th, 2007 at 04:10:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would agree partially with what you have said, but I believe it is a mistake to say across the board that empires never leave anything of benefit to future inhabitants of former colonies.  The Romans, one of the most exploitative and perennially corrupt empires still left much of benefit for the modern world. Likewise, who can deny the lasting endowments of other empires, whether intended or not.  Spain itself has a rich cultural heritage not in small part due to its conquest and occupation by the Moors.  Without doubt those who viewed the Moorish invasion and conquest at the time were loath to credit the Moors with any benefit to the conquered peoples and thus struggled (for 700 years) to remove them.  It may be, as you have said, that the failure to widely educate and incorporate colonized inhabitants into the "system" leaves the colony without a means to properly govern itself, but I have seen evidence in several former British colonies, notably Hong Kong, Guyana (now one of the poorest countries in the Americas, but not entirely due to the British colonial record), Belize, and Singapore that the British left a beneficial legacy, even if not always appreciated.  The colonial record in some other countries, as pointed out in comments above, has been of much less benefit.  Nigeria was left with a considerable money in the treasury but this was squandered on lavish buildings, statues, and a state owned shipping line and airline, and the country succumbed to religious and tribal sectionalism, coups, as well as an unhealthy dose of corruption.  Poor education of the colonials by the British?  Maybe.  At some point, independent countries have to take some responsibility for their own destinies.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Jul 6th, 2007 at 11:31:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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