Values vs. Realities? American Attitudes and Policies Toward Hong Kong after 1997

Danny Shiu-lam Paau

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American values often have much impact on its policies toward other nations, criticism and queries from some specialists notwithstanding. Approaching 1997, Hong Kong began to be dragged into U.S.-Beijing entanglement in many fronts; with some of the most dramatic scenes in the conflicts of values.
After Britain, the United States of America would step into Hong Kong to continue the heralding of Western values or rhetoric as well as self-interest. Americans as well as many overseas observers have often taken for granted the legitimacy and benefits of Western values or systems and the certainty that they could be applied universally; with little if any thought of any need for adaptation or adjustment to individual local situations. Since 1997, in reality, Hong Kong had found itself in a unique situation and thus necessarily had its own agenda and priorities. Unless US leaders know and sympathize with Hong Kong worries and concerns, their insistence in promoting American values could bring unforeseen difficulty and problems to the tiny enclave.
Beijing-Washington relations has long been rocky and tense particularly into the 1990s. After 1997, therefore, it should surprise no one that Hong Kong would inevitably be caught in the rather frequent crossfire of the two titans. In general, as a British-ruled colony for more than one and a half century, the majority of people in Hong Kong have long adopted most basic tenets of Western values. In examining Hong Kong reactions to U.S. opinions and actions toward local affairs, however, we should note that at least the following factors were also at work simultaneously.
First, values is only one of the factors--though the most vocally asserted--influencing American diplomacy. Second, as the discussion on the “doomsday prophecy” books above pointed out: Few commenting on Hong Kong really understood the place, its problems, its worries and the agenda of the local government in addition to those of Beijing. Their predictions, in consequently, thus often missed the mark. Third, after 1997, Hong Kong began the experimental “one country, two systems” The international community seemingly only cared, however, for the preservation or, rather, separation, of the “two systems”. Few sympathized with, or even realized that Hong Kong needs to face Beijing which certainly insist that the “one country” side of the coin should not be overlooked. The right of abode case, as earlier discussed, had created a legal crisis as Hong Kong and Beijing follow different legal systems. Finally, US involvement in the above cases caused the more alert people in Hong Kong to express fear to be caught in conflicts of the two titans--Beijing and Washington--which happened to differ in so many of their basic values and orientations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-43
Number of pages43
JournalTamkang Journal of International Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002
Externally publishedYes

User-Defined Keywords

  • American values
  • Hong Kong
  • Beijing
  • Beijing-Washington
  • US Hong Kong Policy Act
  • Asian financial crisis


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