BY BRIAN TAYLOR
For weeks, hundreds of millions of people across China - at the beginning of the school day, on the radio, through the television set, and in the workplace - have counted down the days to July 1. That is the day Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty after more than 150 years of British colonial rule.
"Recovering Hong Kong is a time for our nation to rejoice," said Wang Xiuxhen, a 60-year-old Shanghai resident. "Chinese people will be ruled by Chinese people, not foreigners... We can't allow colonialism anymore."
"Everyone I know cares about it because it's a moment in history when China can be proud" for "taking back something that was forcefully stolen from us," remarked Wang Zhining, a student in China.
Lin Ruimin, a 45-year-old electrician in Shanghai said, "Now we can go see Hong Kong. I want to go. I certainly want my children to go. After July 1 it will be much easier to go."
Even businesses people in Hong Kong are awaiting the transition. Ong Chin Huat, the society editor for Hong Kong Tatler magazine said, "Everyone I know is doing a party of some sort."
Hong Kong is a small island-city of 6.3 million people. At the end of June its last British governor, Christopher Patten, will be leaving for good. Ten thousand Chinese troops will move into Hong Kong to secure the transition. The region is to be granted a high degree of autonomy, but with Beijing in charge of defense and foreign affairs. Tung Chee-hwa, from one of Hong Kong's richest shipping families, is slated to head the Hong Kong government for the next five years.
British prime minister Anthony Blair and U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, both of whom will be in Hong Kong June 30, say they will boycott the midnight swearing in ceremony for the new government.
Meanwhile, U.S. president William Clinton's decision to renew China's "most-favored nation" (MFN) trade status - essentially normal trade relations - sparked another round in what has become an annual debate about what approach to take to Beijing.
In 1949, Chinese workers and peasants overthrew the imperialist-backed regime of Chiang Kai-shek, wrested control from the landlords and capitalists, and opened the door to the establishment of a workers state in the world's most populous country. The U.S. rulers are divided on how to best go about penetrating the Chinese market and attempting to restore capitalist domination.
House minority leader Richard Gephardt, a Democrat from Missouri, was in the forefront of opposing Clinton's proposal. He said U.S. policy under the Clinton administration has been "far too weak when it comes to China." He and others argue for a harsher stance toward Beijing, on the pretext of human rights concerns.
In a 259-173 vote, the House of Representatives turned down a motion to not grant Beijing the MFN status on June 24. The White House had pushed for this vote to take place before the Hong Kong transition.
At the same time, Washington has stepped up its propaganda depicting China as a military threat. There are 100,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Asia, and now Washington is pushing Tokyo to join in a project called the Theater Missile Defense Project (TMD). This would be a joint U.S./Japanese government operation to develop an anti-missile system using spy satellites, advanced land or sea-based anti-missile systems, and an array of other arms upgrades, capable of being deployed to limited areas or "theaters."
Tokyo has been hesitant to sign on, however. The project would be considered a provocation by Beijing, which is a nuclear power, and by Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, French companies recently closed a $2 billion deal with the Chinese government for 30 Airbus planes. Paris and Beijing signed a joint declaration shortly after stating, "The time has come for France and China to [build] a long- term global partnership aimed at moving French-Chinese relations to a new phase of development."
British capitalists are looking to remain in Hong Kong. Among them is Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. This 165-year- old company has maintained a low profile in recent months, as its roots lie in the British empire's military forcing of illegal opium sales into China. The Opium Wars - two trade wars in the mid-1800s launched in the interests of British capital - forced the legalization of opium in China, through the military defeat of China and seizure of the territory known as Hong Kong from the Chinese regime.
With the end of colonial rule in Hong Kong, and the Portuguese colony of Macao following suit in 1999, the next question posed is when Beijing will set a date for reunification with Taiwan.
A large island province off the coast of mainland China,
Taiwan was seized by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949,
as they fled the victorious Chinese revolution.
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