CHAPTER ONE It's Not Like It Was
Steve Vines, onetime editor of the now-defunct Eastern Express, now correspondent in Hong Kong for The Independent, was unequivocal:
"Self-censorship is a misnomer. There is no self-censorship in Hong Kong media, there is censorship. The censorship is exercised by the people who own the bulk of the media in Hong Kong. It's not editors, its not journalists working at their desks.
"It is the fear that the proprietors will stop them and if they do go beyond the limits, there will be repercussions.
"The great problem for the media is the very high degree of ownership of the media by what are essentially non-media companies with business interests in China."
Vines was speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong, and quoted in the September 1998, edition of the club's magazine. (1)
He told a luncheon gathering:
"All China wanted in Hong Kong was a colonial system, administered by a proconsul, in which the people of Hong Kong would have less political rights than the people of Ethiopia," he said, "in which the dream of the Chinese leadership was that economic freedom could exist and flourish and political freedom and civil liberties wouldn't be allowed to flourish.
"Poor old Karl Marx must be really stirring in his grave when he hears people who call themselves communists thinking they can detach political and economic systems.
"They obviously don't read Marx anymore. If they did they would find this is an illusion. An illusion that the Chinese leadership would like for China: a non-ideological system, oppressively controlled politically, but with a free market operating around the fringes."
Vines is worth listening to at length because he has been a journalist in the front line trenches in Hong Kong. Under the "colonial system" Hong Kong now has, it doesn't necessarily involve having buttons pressed from Beijing. "The important thing for them was to get the man in charge right.
"With Tung Chee-Hwa they got it right. He doesn't be controlled because he is already on the same wavelength as China's leadership.
"Power has been concentrated into the hands of this man in a way that leaves very little scope for challenge. Just as it was in the former colonial system."
"So it was crucial in how it changed China's attitude towards Hong Kong.
"It was also crucial in demolishing the many myths about Hong Kong: People here are only interested in money and aren't prepared to go out on the street and fight for things they believe in.