CHAPTER FIVE Beijing's Control over HK Restricts Freedom
In Hong Kong within a few weeks after the handover it became fashionable to say that "not much is different" and "hardly anything has changed," since Mainland China took control of the former British colony on July 1, 1997.
And at first glance that appeared to be an accurate assessment. The Peak Tram and the Star Ferry, two Hong Kong institutions, still made their trips up the side of Victoria Peak and across the harbor, respectively, as they had done for decades.
It still was a dazzling city, set in a magnificent geographical location, with skyscrapers that are some of the most stunning architectural creations in Asia.
A talented, energetic and diverse population, mostly Chinese but with a generous helping of other nationalities, epitomizes Hong Kong's well-known cosmopolitan essence. Although a casual glance turns up nothing peculiar, something is happening to Hong Kong's freedoms.
Approximately 8,000 journalists from around the world descended on Hong Kong July 1, 1997 to report on the historic handover - most reporting that the place would go downhill fast.
The post-handover financial difficulties and a nasty series of scandals have been blamed not on Mainland China but on the media. The media expect this to some degree, knowing that the messenger conveys bad news is often held responsible for it.
Nonetheless, a little more time is needed to find the real culprit behind the stock market, tremors in Hong Kong. One explanation for the quakes could be Hong Kong's lack of confidence in itself.
The tourism downturn - 40 percent fewer Japanese visited Hong Kong in the first year since the handover - was aggravated when reports surfaced that Japanese and Korean tourists were severely overcharged by certain Hong Kong hotels, restaurants and shops. It is no secret that Hong Kong prices have gone through the roof.
Hong Kong has definitely lost its bargain shop image and is now more like a giant luxury boutique.
The number of tourists going to Hong Kong plummeted 22.4 percent in September 1997 after dropping 24.4 percent in August and 35 percent in July. Cathy Pacific Airways started offering special package deals with hotels in an effort to reverse the slide.
Amid all these activities, there are some subtle indications that Hong Kong is now in the process of being "colonized" by Beijing. Although not as obviously, Hong Kong's media seem to be going through the same process.