No news for the colony

Deng's death is unlikely to improve Hong Kong's prospects for autonomy under China
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The Independent Online
On the footbridge connecting Hong Kong to the Chinese border town of Shenzhen is a huge electronic sign which says: "Hong Kong Will Have A More Beautiful Future." It is one of the many Deng Xiaoping slogans predicting the dawning of a new era after the British colony's return to the motherland.

Yet it is Shenzhen itself that perhaps more accurately depicts Deng's vision for the future of Hong Kong. If anyone was Shenzhen's founding father it must surely be Deng Xiaoping, whose spirit looms large over this booming city, the only one in China which has a giant poster of the departed paramount leader at its centre.

Forget for a moment that Shenzhen is riddled with drug dealing, prostitution and gangland activity and focus on its phenomenal growth since Deng established it as the first of China's Special Economic Zones in 1980. The economy has boomed to such an extent that Shenzhen is now one of China's most prosperous cities, with its own stock exchange, enormous money markets and the kind of sophistication that makes visitors from other parts of China believe they are in a foreign country.

Yet, even during the tumultuous days of the 1989 democracy movement, it never showed any sign of slipping from the Communist Party's control.

To celebrate Mr Deng's 91st birthday, the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily pledged the city's determination "to carry out the second revolution", which it described as "development of the market economy". The first revolution was about politics, the second is supposed to be purely a matter of economics. Strangely, the theoretically Marxist Chinese leadership sees no connection between the two.

This is the real message that Mr Deng was sending to Hong Kong, which he repeatedly warned should not be allowed to become "a political city". The problem is that Hong Kong has developed profound political characteristics, while its level of economic development remains far higher than that of Shenzhen.

In 1989 the former Communist Party General Secretary, Zhao Ziyang, outlined how difficult it was to separate economic from political reform, and warned the party that it faced being sidelined if it failed to come to terms with this. It turned out, however, to be his last speech to the leadership before he was deposed, and his words were never published in China.

Yet China's insistence on separating political from economic development is one of the central questions that will be facing Hong Kong in the new era. In a speech he made in 1987, Deng said he wanted to see the territory ruled by a legislature which could "avoid much wrangling". He made it clear, moreover, that his original slogan of gangren zhigang, or Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, was not to be taken at face value.

Ever since the Tiananmen massacre, when Hong Kong people poured on to the streets in their millions, the Chinese officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs have stuck rigidly to Deng's later strictures, which were in marked contrast to his earlier promises of allowing Hong Kong the freedom to develop in its own way.

Martin Lee, leader of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, has expressed the hope that Deng's death will allow Chinese officials who are terrified of deviating from the party line to soften their position. But all the indications are that China will maintain Deng's insistence on limiting the extent of Hong Kong's autonomy and applying the brakes to democratic reform, probably the most damaging aspect of the Deng legacy.