Thursday, February 7, 2008

U.S. State Department on Hong Kong and Macau

A few weeks ago I found myself on the U.S State Department's website and I stumbled across an Email Updates page. The service seemed pretty nifty; they let you choose from a laundry list of different topics that you want to be updated on, and then they send the updates right into your box. Perhaps, I checked too many topics; my inbox is starting to look like the State Department's clearinghouse. But the information that comes in is truly useful, and today, the info was topical. The State Department released their new background notes on Macau and Hong Kong. And I bring especially to you, yes you, my summary of the State Department's Background Notes on Macau and Hong Kong. I wonder if they're more optimistic than the "Unbelievably Scary China Committee."

The State Department just doesn't have much to say about Macau. This might have something to do with a lack of a U.S. government office in Macau. The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong handles our interests in Macau.

The U.S. is the destination for almost 45% of Macau's exports, but the State Department speculates that this will dry up at the end of next year with the expiration of the 2005 Multi-Fibre Arrangement quotas. U.S. business just does not have the same presence in Macau that it has in Hong Kong and China. This Special Administrative Region is simply represented as a tourist destination for folks from Hong Kong and the Mainland, with a dying export market, growing gambling market, and a government dominated by a cross between Beijing appointees and "pro-entertainment industry groups."

Hong Kong
Here we have a lesson in contrast. Juxtaposing the State Department's Background Notes on Hong Kong and China, Hong Kong seems to represent everything the State Department wishes China could be. There even seems to be a sense of confusion in their writing over how Hong Kong can possibly be under the control of Beijing.

See if you can spot which of the following are about Hong Kong and which are about China:
  • "[A] free and open society where human rights are respected, courts are independent, and there is well-established respect for the rule of law."
  • "[W]ell-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities' intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms."
  • "Although new criminal and civil laws have provided additional safeguards to citizens, previously debated political reforms, ... have been put on hold."
  • "[A]dopted a new state constitution that emphasized the rule of law under which even party leaders are theoretically held accountable" (emphasis added).
  • "[A]chieve full universal suffrage for the ___ in 2017, and full universal suffrage for _____ sometime thereafter."
I guess that was more of a rhetorical question, but if you're wondering, the first and the last come from the State Department's report on Hong Kong. Of particular interest is the part about the possibility for true democracy in Hong Kong for the election of the Chief Executive (CE) and the Legislative Council (Legco). The section on Hong Kong's government is devoted to how well the republican form of government is working, and how swiftly the Special Administrative Region is moving to democracy even while under the watchful eye of Beijing. The similar section in China can be summed up in a single sentence: "The Chinese Government has always been subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); its role is to implement party policies."

You know the U.S. is fond of Hong Kong when the State Department writes: "Hong Kong is one of the world's most open and dynamic economies." And here's something I was unaware of: U.S. official policy towards Hong as stated in the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 is to "promote Hong Kong's prosperity, autonomy, and way of life." Our number one economic goal with China is to "fully integrate China into the global, rules-based economic and trading system." The relations are both paternalistic, but the father is feeding one a carrot and the other a stick.

Despite Hong Kong's robust economy, the State Department avoids the pissing match it gets into with an imaginary Chinese opponent in the following bizarre exchange:
"The result has been the largest reduction of poverty and one of the fastest increases in income levels ever seen. China today is the fourth-largest economy in the world. It has sustained average economic growth of over 9.5% for the past 26 years. In 2006 its $2.68 trillion economy was about one-fifth the size of the U.S. economy."
To paraphrase the State Department: "Yeah, sure, they're doing alright, but they still stand in our shadow."

Fortunately, the State Department stays away from the many silly China conclusions of others, and actually recognizes the importance of China for the U.S. China is one of our largest export markets, and the State Department lists several reasonable factors for our trade deficit including a strong domestic demand for Chinese goods and faulty U.S. trade data attributes.

I'm pretty sure the State Department would prefer that China become more like Hong Kong between now and 2047, but at first blush that seems unlikely. Then you have to wonder, if China is allowing democracy in Hong Kong over the next decade plus, does China plan on being a democracy come 2047?

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