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Those who feel most strongly that Hong Kong is on the road to ruin focus on the broad and still ill-defined area of Hong Kong's future civil liberties. When Tung recently named Andrew Li, a 48-year-old barrister highly respected for his independence, as the Chief Justice of the SAR's new Court of Final Appeal (in effect its Supreme Court), the appointment was intended to reassure the human-rights crowd, and it did. But many of them doubt even Li can stand up to pressure from Beijing when the first political case reaches his bench. They are sure China will prove unable to cede true autonomy to the SAR for fear of losing control of it and, in the process, of the restless hordes of mainlanders who look to Hong Kong as a political model. "This is just the beginning of our difficult encounters with draconian measures," predicts lawyer and Democratic Party vice chairman Albert Ho.
The loss many anticipate first is freedom of the press. Most local journalists don't foresee army troops storming into their offices and shutting down operations. "I don't think they would risk such a move in the coming years because the foreign media will be watching," explains Lee Yee, editor of a Chinese-language political magazine called Nineties. But many journalists are convinced a sizable number of their colleagues are already guilty of self-censorship, even though it is hard to prove. "Some editors think China will pressure them, so they're backing down themselves," says K.C. Chan, deputy editor in chief of the prestigious Hong Kong Economic Journal. Chief editor Joseph Lian, who writes the publication's tart editorials, says "any self-censorship now taking place is to curry favor rather than escape punishment."
The dilemma facing Hong Kong's democrats is whether they should cooperate with China and pressure it quietly behind closed doors, as Tung proposes, or openly confront Beijing. A law-abiding attitude won't impress Beijing, says Ho. "We may come to the point where there is no alternative to civil disobedience." A poor laborer like Lee Man Ko thinks demonstrations are a luxury. "If they protest and it gets better housing for us, good," he says. "If not, it's just a bad disturbance of public order."