Sunday, July 01, 2007

From Her Majesty to the Commisars

I visited Hong Kong for the first, and so far, last time in April of 1997. I wanted to see it before it ceased to be a colony of the Empire and fell into the foul maw of the Chicoms. For three weeks I wandered from the Peak to Kowloon, through markets of jade and song birds, resting in ex pat filled pubs, taking high tea in gilded hotels and feasting on dim sum on barges, and all matter of exotic food from 4 star restaurants to the vendors on the street. Chinese, British, Irish, Australian, Kiwi, Canadians, Filipinos, American, Indian and Europeans of every stripe made it their home. The only city I have ever been in with New York City's energy. Glad to say, overall, Hong Kong has not been too terribly affected by the Chinese Communists. True, they have not lived up to their promises on democracy, but Hong Kong was always unique in being an oasis of Liberty without Democracy. It is the future that is worrisome.

The real problem is that there was no reason other than revanchist desires of China to had it back. At the same time I went to Hong Kong I saw Macao. A Portuguese colony for 400 or more years. It was handed over in 1999. A more raffish and exotic city, a combination of Mediterranean charm and Oriental exoticism, there does not exist in today's world. If Guys and Dolls were being written today, Macao would be the site. Damon Runyon would live there were he with us.

Finally, I took a trip into China proper. Grinding poverty alongside (then) 20th century luxury. Tour guides of the old Soviet model (but more stylish and obviously yearning to get to the West). Any one of the people I met in China would have given all they had to get to Hong Kong or Macao permanently.

The point of all this is that the reflex in the West to simply cave to shouts of "Colonialism" or "anachronism" is meekly followed, rather than asking the question, are the people's lives improved or not? I think that if the people of Macao or Hong Kong had been consulted, without the threat of war, the status quo would have won. With war, probably not but why should war have been threatened when the status quo had done no harm and much good for hundreds of years? Bermuda, very close to a massive hegemonic power, voted to remain a colony in 1999 and the world did not end. Australia voted to retain the Queen as head of State and Australia's role in the world has increased, not decreased.

The West, including France, Britain, Dutch, the United States, and Denmark with overseas territories, ought to determine not to hand them over to tyrannies every again, regardless of the agitation of "we're oppressed" crowd.

Update: Slate takes a whack at 7/1 in this fun piece:


Dave S. said...

When elements of JJV's nemesis the League of Extraordinary Strawmen shout "Colonialism!" and "Anachronism!" at, respectively, our Iraq adventure and the increased gathering of royal power by the executive branch, have we budged? I think not.

Even more ridiculous than that last paragraph is the pair of counterexamples provided as a comparison to Hong Kong's situation. Is it too late for me to note here that I was against Hong Kong reverting to China? It is an interesting example of my infatuation with battleships (coaling stations, baby!) coinciding with JJV's generally whacked-out worldview. As I recall, he once used that coincidence as proof of my conservative nature. Oh, the times we have had.

Anonymous said...

Wait, my recollection is that the return of at least some parts of Hong Kong was required under the terms of a 99 year lease that the Victorians extorted out of the tottering old dynasty. That's what started the whole thing in the first place. I wouldn't swear to that, though. Unlike JJV, I don't long for the days when Britain really ruled the waves.

John C.

jjv said...

John C is partially correct. A portion had to be returned but not all of it. They could have been perfectly within their rights to keep that portion. Also, I think Thatcher should have gotten agreement from Canada, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, the United States and any Commonwealth countries she could to issue "emergency visas" so that every Hong Kong citizen would have a country to go to if China cracked down. Now they are stuck.