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by Special to    Sat, Dec 24, 2005, 01:00 AM

Many individuals in the United States and Western Europe praise democracy as the only good system of government. These promoters of democracy believe their system of government can work effectively everywhere. They fail to consider that democracy may not be appropriate for some countries and cultures. Hence, difficulties arise amongst nations. Hong Kong is a city linked by the cultures of the east and west. Hong Kong was a colony of Great Britain until 1997 when the Thatcher government handed over control to China. Hong Kong had experienced many freedoms under British rule, and Beijing left Hong Kong "more free" than the mainland. Officially, there is no media censorship, no restrictions on religion, and no socialist bureaucracy hampering the economy. Unofficially, the economy is free, but you had better be careful about what you say in the media, and Christian believers are not entirely free (although more so than in mainland China). Meanwhile, Beijing doesn't allow a fully democratic government. Donald Tsang the Chief Executive of Hong Kong was appointed by the Chinese government. There were 60 members of the legislature, but only half of them are popularly elected. Pro-democracy supporters want "full democracy for Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the economy of Hong Kong is doing great. It grew by 8.3% in the third quarter and tourism increased by 7.6% for the first nine months of the year.

Tension between the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and China’s government has been growing this month. On December 4th, 250,000 pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong marched from Victoria Park to the government headquarters downtown. This week pro-democracy lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s proposed changes to the City’s electoral process which would have given neighborhood groups more say in picking the legislature. The measure required two-thirds approval, and pro-democracy legislators voted 24 to 1 against it, claiming that there needed to be a timetable for moving towards full democracy in Hong Kong.

The U.S. State Department has waded into the dispute on behalf of the pro-democracy protestors. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "We believe that it's important to achieve universal suffrage in Hong Kong as soon as possible. The people of Hong Kong are ready for democracy and the sooner that a timetable for universal suffrage is established, the better." Ereli’s statement comes across more as a demand rather than a statement and undoubtedly was understood that way by the Chinese government. Beijing reacted by claiming that the United States was interfering with the internal affairs of China.

China has never experienced western-style democracy historically. So, making the transition to any form of democracy is bound to be difficult. Lest one forget, our democratic republic in the United States was based on the British common law tradition. How would Americans feel if the Chinese government demanded that our country follow in the footsteps of Chairman Mao? It is not easy to make the transition from a totalitarian regime to one with a free economy which allows political and religious freedoms. Chinese officials are trying to navigate through heavily mined fields as that country moves away from a Communist ideology which dominated that nation’s political system for half a century.

As Chinese officials look at how democracy is working in the rest of Asia, it may give them pause as to how quickly they want to move in that direction. In Japan about 70% of people recently polled stated that they don't respect their elected legislators. South Korea elected Noh Moo-hyun as their president, but his popularity ratings hover around 20%. The Philippines has one of the freest democracies in Asia, but its economy is one of the poorest. Much of Asia suffers from corrupt and incompetent, democratically elected governments.

The 250,000 people who protested in Hong Kong on December 4th feel that their problems will be solved if they just have a "full democracy". But, that hasn’t proved to be the case in other Asian nations where democracy reigns.

The United States and Western Europe have a democratic tradition which they are proud of; but trying to export democracy in areas of the world where there are no democratic traditions to speak of is difficult to do. Democracy succeeds only if the citizens and government of a country want it to work.

China is slowly moving away from Communism. Whether it will turn towards democracy or towards an authoritarian regime of some kind is hard to tell at the moment. But, one thing is certain, the Chinese – not the Americans – will determine the political future of Hong Kong – and China

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