Hong Kong’s transfer discussed at Coffman

As 100-year British rule in Hong Kong comes to a close in June, many questions and myths still remain about what major changes might take place in a country about half the size of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
A week-long symposium that started on Monday at Coffman Memorial Union is bringing in local, national and international speakers in an attempt to address these lingering issues that University members have about Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from British rule to mainland China.
“A lot of my friends wonder what happened to Hong Kong and why there is a transfer of government,” said Carissa Pang, a member of the Hong Kong Student Association, the event’s main organizer.
“This does not just affect our (Hong Kong citizens’) lives, but others.”
Pang said that the main reason changes in Hong Kong will have such an impact on others is that it plays a large role in the global economy.
Since Hong Kong is the world’s eighth-largest economy, the switch from British to Chinese rule will create a number of economic implications. Winnie Ho, deputy director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, who visited from New York on Monday, addressed those issues.
Ho challenged the idea that Hong Kong’s economic autonomy might be diminished. She said that because Chinese officials say that Hong Kong will still enjoy a high degree of autonomy, the economic outlook is not negative.
“We will continue to practice free trade. We will not have to pay taxes to China. The Hong Kong dollar will remain,” she said.
Ho also discussed whether the transfer from control by a democratic government to a communist one poses a threat to political freedoms and free exercise of the media. Ho maintains that changes in Hong Kong will have no major impact on the life of average citizens.
Despite the uncertainty of Hong Kong’s fate, Ho and some University students from Hong Kong are generally optimistic about the transfer.
Pang said she sees the transfer of government as positive. “We always have a question of our identity,” she said. “After 1997, we can say we are Chinese. We belong to China.”
However, Pang said she is concerned about how the change will affect education.
As a graduate student studying environmental engineering, Pang said she does worry about the economic situation, because she wonders what the job market will be like after she graduates next year.
She said she will probably return to Hong Kong, but the change makes her less certain of this because job prospects might change.
“The Chinese government doesn’t see the environment as important as here,” said Pang. “It’s easier to find a job here instead of going back.”
Pang said that because she wants to live in Hong Kong, she is also concerned the change will attract bigger corporations away to the Chinese mainland. She said such a development could influence where she lives.
“If I have a choice, I will see a better way to secure my future,” Pang said. “If there’s no transfer, I will never think that I will have to choose. I would stay in Hong Kong for sure.”
Dominic Au, a senior majoring in accounting and a symposium organizer, said the change he is most concerned about is that freedom of expression in his native Hong Kong might be more tightly monitored by China. “In Hong Kong people can express an idea, and this might change.”
Au said he does not want limited information, an idea that he said fit into the theme of this week’s symposium. He said by bringing together students, faculty and experts outside of the University, different issues can be addressed.
“We don’t want people to know only one side of the story. We have economic, we have political, we have academic” sides, Au said.
Several speakers are still planned for the week, including a media critic, who will come from Hong Kong on Wednesday, and on Friday a political scientist. In addition, on Thursday there will be a student symposium.