(6 of 6)
More problematic are those who aspire to be the Hong Kong equivalent of Tiananmen's tankman. The radical democratic group Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, which sponsors the annual June 4 candlelight memorial that attracted almost 55,000 citizens to Victoria Park this year, shocked its moderate audience by announcing that its ambitions now extended to ending one-party rule in all of China. By virtually daring Beijing to come and get them, the alliance is entering uncharted waters. Martin Lee's mainstream democrats will continue to demonstrate gently in order to educate the public about the need to preserve and protect the rights they enjoy. Since dissent is a fact of life in Hong Kong, the incoming government has little choice but to let it continue. Tung has declared publicly that he will avoid making martyrs of those who protest before some 8,000 journalists staked out on handover night. The Chief Executive and his Beijing superiors are well aware that televised images of repression in the streets of Hong Kong would deal a lethal blow to that ephemeral commodity known as confidence, on which Hong Kong's continued prosperity and stability depend. It is the very evanescence of Hong Kong's assets that makes the transition such a delicate rite of passage.
The West is watching all this with a skeptical eye. Like it or not, victory in the cold war has given the democratic nations the power to set the world's rules and Washington the presumption to decide who meets them or fails. Communism is discredited, and China has a long, sorry history of repression and convulsion. Despite the promises Beijing has made, a growing lobby in Washington does not give the People's Republic the benefit of the doubt. Distrust of Beijing has brought together an anti-China odd coupling of human-rights advocates, religious fundamentalists and free traders who claim China seeks to dominate all Asia. These doubters are ready to pounce on any misstep as an excuse for a policy of containment intended to force the communist leadership from power. Eager for China's markets, Clinton and his European allies had given China plenty of latitude, and it would be naive for Hong Kong to count too heavily on muscular intervention on its behalf. But if Beijing wants to be welcomed into the community of nations with the stature its size and wealth ought to command, China will have to convince the gatekeepers that it is ready and able to live by the world's new rules.
--With reporting by Sandra Burton, John Colmey, Jon Hilsenrath and Lulu Yu/Hong Kong
For our special issue on Hong Kong, see our Website at time.com/hongkong