Such demonstrations, reasonably free at the beginning, are now much
restricted. Four men have been convicted for demonstrating, two of
them for defacing the scarlet flag of the People's Republic of China.
Neither defacing the Union Jack nor public protest was an offense
under "oppressive colonial rule." Beyond doubt, Beijing is gradually
reducing Hong Kong to authoritarian servitude under cover of
apparently moderate policies. We should have expected nothing else.
Hong Kong cannot be allowed to become a threat to Beijing's
absolutist rule of China by its example of a happier people under a
more lenient government. But absolutism will be enforced "slowly,
slowly", as Tung observed of the ultimate suppression of the media,
electoral rights, and all freedom of expression.
Foreign influence has slowed that inexorable process--and could slow
it further. Paramount is American influence, since President Jiang
Zemin needs the public approval of the Clinton administration to
enhance his personal prestige. American goodwill is also vital to
China's industrial progress. But such influence can only slow the
process. It cannot stop the smothering of the SAR's transient
freedoms and residual prosperity. It cannot stop corruption either.
Tung's administration has been further marred by a general rise in
crime, as well as public and private corruption. To be fair, armed
robbery and bribery were already increasing under Patten's