U.S. News

Hong Kong Faces Another Challenging Decade

Associated Press

Hong Kong's bustling streets were noisier than usual over the weekend as a parade of dancing dragons, guitar-strumming rockers and protesters chanting "We want democracy!" marked the 10th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China.

But as Hong Kong residents celebrated pulling through the bumpy decade, many agreed the next 10 years will be full of serious challenges for the seven million people living in this global business center on China's muggy southern coast.

They must worry that rivals such as Singapore and Shanghai will seize a bigger chunk of the city's key businesses, like shipping and financial services. Pollution is a severe problem. People are growing impatient for full democracy -- an issue that causes friction with the city's Communist overlords in Beijing.

As he began a new term Sunday, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang reminded the public that the city faces "fierce" competition and must transform itself. Tsang wants Hong Kong to be a financial capital on par with New York and London.

"Hong Kong is not the biggest city in China, but it can be the best," said Tsang, a veteran civil servant.

But resident Rusli Lie, a 60-year-old clerk, feared that Singapore and Shanghai might eclipse Hong Kong because their leaders were more decisive and better planners. "They are really running after Hong Kong," he said while watching a flag-raising ceremony.

After 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong was handed back to China on July 1, 1997, with the promise that it would enjoy a wide-degree of autonomy from the Communist mainland. The territory was allowed to keep its capitalist economy, British-style legal system and civil liberties that mainlanders do not have.

For the most part, China has honored its hands-off promise. Once-popular gloomy predictions that Hong Kong would be slowly strangled by Beijing's repressive grip have not come true. But many people are unhappy that they still are not allowed to directly elect their leaders.

On Sunday, thousands marched through the canyons of office towers and skyscrapers, calling for full democracy. Hong Kong's leader is now picked by an 800-seat committee loyal to Beijing. Only half of the 60-seat legislature is elected by the public, while the rest are chosen by special interest groups.