Question marks hanging over the future

Hong Kong Handover

Hong Kong faces many changes in the months ahead. Stephen Vines answers the most common queries about the colony's transition.

What will happen to the British connection with Hong Kong - will it simply end on 1 July 1997?

No. The Government insists that Britain has a residual responsibility, in part as a signatory to the treaty under which Hong Kong reverts to Chinese rule and in part because a Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, responsible for transitional issues, will remain in operation until 1 January 2000.

What happens to the Queen's head on stamps and coins?

All royal insignia will go; the Queen's head has already gone from new coins. Red letter boxes with the royal crest will be phased out and in will come the Bauhinia symbol, drawn from Hong Kong's national flower. It is a sterile hybrid which produces no seed.

What about all the institutions designated as royal?

With the exception of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, all other royal- named bodies, including the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, are rushing to drop the honour like a bad smell.

Will British-related monuments and road names remain?

Problematic. The Britons have named almost every road after a British functionary. China has said nothing about changing these names, but in neighbouring Portuguese Macau, China has insisted on the removal of "colonial" statues.

What about the old colonial buildings?

What old colonial buildings? Commerce has taken its toll on most of them.Chris Patten joked that the Governor's house would be turned into a museum of colonialism. At any rate Tung Chee-hwa, Mr Patten's successor, does not want to live there.

Will any British armed forces stay in Hong Kong?

The garrison will wind down in the next few months. The rest will have to be out of the colony immediately after the handover. They will probably be put aboard vessels accompanying HMS Britannia out of Hong Kong.

Will Britons still have the right to visit Hong Kong?

Britons will still be allowed in without a visa but will no longer be free to work or study. Like other foreigners they will have to obtain special permits.

What about British passport holders in Hong Kong?

Those of non-Chinese origin will simply be treated as foreigners. Ethnic Chinese holders of UK passports will not recognised as British citizens by the Chinese government but will be regarded as Chinese citizens.

Will there be freedom of speech and of the media?

In theory, this is guaranteed under the Basic Law; but senior Chinese officials have warned there will be no freedom to criticise the Chinese government, advocate independence, or criticise individual leaders.

And the legal system?

This, too, is supposed to remain unchanged, right down to the use of wigs and flowing robes. Understandably, the Chinese language will get a bigger airing in the courts. The real problem is the independence of the judiciary. China has reserved the right to have the last say on determining basic constitutional issues and has limited the autonomy of the court of final appeal.

What role will the Communist Party play?

At the moment it is a clandestine organisation in Hong Kong; it may go above ground. However the really important question is whether commissars will be assigned to oversee the work of government departments, as in China. As China will be shipping in a reported 4,000 cadres, it seems likely that they will be given something to do.

Will the civil service be shaken up?

China says it wants most senior officials to stay on. It's the word "most" that causes concern. The assumption is that the service will become highly politicised if a commissar system is introduced.

And the elected legislators?

They will be kicked out on day one and replaced by "provisional" legislators, selected by a Chinese approved committee.

Will Chinese people be free to come to Hong Kong?

No. They will need special permission, as they do today. China fears an open border would open the flood gates. Hong Kong may fuse more closely with the neighbouring Shenzhen Special Economic Region, which is also a restricted area for most Chinese.

Hong Kong is an international centre, with more diplomatic missions than most Asian countries. What will happen to them?

Practically all will stay, including the British. There is a question- mark over the Taiwanese representation. Foreign relations are a matter for the Chinese, not the Hong Kong government, so everyone has to apply for permission in Peking to remain in Hong Kong.

Can we talk about money?

In Hong Kong, everyone does. In theory, everything will remain as it is, with the Hong Kong government given fully autonomy to make its own decisions on economic and fiscal policy. In practice there is plenty of scope for pressure on the new government and "arrangements" for the transfer of funds.

Will English be in widespread use?

English will remain an official language, although it will become less important. It is already in decline.

The main language will be...?

The Basic Law states Chinese will be the official language, alongside English. This is tricky because the new masters regard Chinese as Mandarin (the language of Peking), while most of the population speak Cantonese.

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