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A vote for the status quo

Scott Tong Mar 23, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Ten years ago, when Hong Kong was given back to Mainland China, the mantra was “One country, two systems.” It was a line from Deng Xiaoping. And in this case it meant that Hong Kong could keep its capitalism as it became part of a socialist country.

Sunday the former British colony will choose its next leader. There’s not really much suspense about the outcome. Because Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports that in Hong Kong, political stability means economic prosperity.

SCOTT TONG: Five percent GDP growth this year. That’s the official forecast for Hong Kong, whose economy has done at least that well since 2004.

Beijing wants to keep it all going — in part by keeping Hong Kong’s chief executive in office.

The political system is structured in favor of the mainland’s choice. And in what will be a formality Sunday, Donald Tsang will win five more years on the job.

Joseph Cheng of the City University of Hong Kong says that job is largely about money.

JOSEPH CHENG: For a place like Hong Kong, money can come in and go out very easily. And if investors leave Hong Kong, it will be difficult to maintain stability and prosperity.

He says many Hong Kong residents feel the same way. They’d choose stability over democracy — which can be messy, and sometimes bad for business.

Ma Ngok teaches at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

MA NGOK: A famous example was Mr. Jimmy Lai, the owner of a very famous newspaper and garment retail stores in Hong Kong. In the past, because of his open criticisms against the Chinese leaders, he got his mainland stores closed down.

Despite all this, democracy activists see hope. Sure, this election is lost for them. But over time, they say calls for political change will come from the influential white-collar class — folks who trained overseas and experienced democracy there.

Michael DeGolyer

of Hong Kong Baptist University says those people are hard to ignore.

MICHAEL DEGOLYER: Beijing has realized that Hong Kong is simply not going to — as one comedian put it here — shut up and just make money.

Indeed, Chief Executive Tsang has vowed to produce a blueprint for what he calls “universal suffrage.” Not now, but in his second term.

In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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