Bereuter's Task Force on the Hong Kong Transition

On November 12, 1997, Representative Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) presented the findings of the U.S. House Task Force on Hong Kong’s transition to the House of Representatives. Formed to observe and report on Hong Kong’s status after its reversion to Chinese rule, the bipartisan task force includes Representatives Doug Bereuter (Chairman), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Eni F. H. Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Jay Kim (R-Calif.), Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.), and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.).

Prior to Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, many U.S. observers expressed doubt that Beijing would uphold its commitment to allow the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR or SAR) full autonomy in matters other than foreign policy and defense. Also, observers were concerned about elections, maintenance of the rule-of-law, business practices, and security over export controls after the transition.

Completed on October 1, 1997, the overall findings of the House task force were favorable. Public confidence remains high in the SAR. Press coverage continues much as it did before the transition although there is some evidence of self-censorship by journalists. Non-governmental organizations still operate freely. Demonstrations continue without interference or restriction. An estimated 150 demonstrations have taken place since July 1, and a group of demonstrators regularly greets Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa when he arrives for his weekly council meetings.

Observing that Beijing has respected the SAR’s autonomy, the task force commented, “Beijing appears to have absented itself from active involvement in Hong Kong affairs since the handover.” According to the task force, China projects a “smiling face” image on Hong Kong-related matters. The recent financial plight of the territory demonstrated that Beijing is allowing the HKSAR to mind its own fiscal and monetary affairs. Aside from its pledge not to devaluate the yuan, China has kept mum on Hong Kong’s financial affairs.

Indeed, China avoids commenting on many topics, such as: non-resident children and their quest for resident status in the territory; the display of the "Republic of China" flag; and SAR fiscal expenditures, such as the U.S. $7 billion pledged for railway construction. Beijing has allowed the Hong Kong government and legal system to make decisions on these matters.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong has kept its visible presence to a minimum. During visits by U.S. naval ships and nuclear submarines, much effort was put into a friendly welcome for the visitors. Except for appearances by "smiling senior officers," the rest of the PLA garrison is usually sequestered.

Notwithstanding a number of economic shocks since the July 1, 1997 transition, Hong Kong’s overall economic outlook remains strong. Because Hong Kong is America’s fourth largest trading partner, the task force was interested in the transitional effect on financial markets. The task force concluded that Hong Kong’s recent economic tribulations resulted from regional turbulence rather than a loss of confidence in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Despite China’s apparent non-interference, the task force voiced its concerns on a number of issues. A primary American concern is a proposed change to Hong Kong electoral laws that would dismantle portions of 1995 electoral reforms put into place by the British (related article this page). Another area of concern for Americans is Hong Kong’s maintenance of regulatory and monitoring standards for controlling sensitive technologies. Currently, U.S. export control policy is less restrictive towards Hong Kong than towards China because Hong Kong has demonstrated effective control in the past. Last, the U.S. is interested in Hong Kong’s continued cooperation in customs enforcement.

Concluding that it is too early to judge the reversion,” the task force plans to visit Hong Kong and Beijing every six months to assess how the reversion continues to affect the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. While cautiously optimistic for Hong Kong’s prospects, the task force deems “that continued scrutiny is well warranted.”

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