Misreading Hong Kong

Tung Chee-hwa, first Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Wikipedia Commons


On December 11, 1996, Tung Chee-hwa, a shipping magnate whose family had fled communist rule in China almost five decades earlier, was chosen chief executive-designate of post-1997 Hong Kong. He was selected from a field of three candidates that included Ti-liang Yang, Hong Kong's chief justice until he resigned to run for chief executive, and Peter Woo, one of the most important businesspeople in Hong Kong.

The event was epochal. In the past, Hong Kong governors had been appointed in London without any consultation with Hong Kong's populace. This time, all the candidates were from Hong Kong, and Tung was chosen after weeks of campaigning. The candidates were questioned on issues ranging from education, housing, and transportation to such sensitive political matters as how to deal with Chinese dissidents and whether rallies to commemorate the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, should continue.

Tung was chosen by the 400-member Selection Committee, made up of businesspeople as well as prominent doctors, lawyers, educators, and union leaders, many of whom have entries in Hong Kong's Who's Who. They constituted a large part of Hong Kong's elite.

While the selection of Tung was considered welcome news in Hong Kong, it was widely condemned in the American press as a "rigged election." Certainly Tung was the clear favorite from the beginning, but no one can say that Yang and Woo entered the race simply to make it appear that there was a real race. Both thought they had a chance and made substantial sacrifices in order to run. Yang had to take early retirement as chief justice and give up his British passport as well as his knighthood. Woo gave up the chairmanship of two major companies, Wharf Holdings and Wheelock Marden & Co.

The proceedings could certainly be criticized as elitist and nondemocratic, but, even so, they were much more democratic than the way in which Hong Kong's last British governor, Christopher Patten, had been chosen. Patten was chosen by just one man, Prime

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