The Chinese Navy Sails Into Hong Kong Harbor

I don't get this NYT article.  Either Keith Bradsher is a fool, or else the people that he is quoting are fools.  The visit to Hong Kong by some Chinese warships is being interpreted as intimidation against democratic reform there.  

As someone who grew up in Hong Kong during some very tumultuous years (1950s, 1960s, 1970s), the idea of China invading this British colony was NOT real.  It could not happen because there was no need to.  If the Chinese army start firing their artillery cannons from their side of the border, the entire Central District would be obliterated in a matter of hours.  There is no defense against that.

When I was a little boy, the ships from the US Seventh Fleet would come into Hong Kong harbor and moor there.  I remember taking a tour of an US aircraft carrier myself.  Again, that was all for show since the Seventh Fleet cannot stop a massive landforce invasion in an urban area.  However, the Seventh Fleet was very good business for the bars and bargirls (who all knew how to say "Hey, sailor boy, wanna have a good time?") in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong.

But the Chinese did not have to resort to military force.  The British had something like 2,000 troops stationed in Hong Kong, so this place is indefensible against any sizeable Chinese invading forces.  My supposition was always that when China made up its mind to take over, all they need to do is to phone the Governor of Hong Kong and tell him to bug out in 24 hours.  The British can get out in one piece, or be routed in a battle that may have significant collateral damages to the infrastructure and residents.

And then there was an even more 'peaceful' way of forcing the British to bail out.  The Chinese only had to phone the Governor of Hong Kong and tell him that they are cutting off the water supply until the British bug out.  Hong Kong depended (and still depends) on China for water and food, and it is impossible to launch a Berlin-like airlift operation to sustain a population of several million.  So any speculation about an invasion by the Chinese army is totally unrealistic, because there was simply no need for them to do so.

Today, Hong Kong is even more integrated with China.  Beyond just water and food supply, much of the Hong Kong economy is linked to China's.  There should not be any doubt in anyone's mind just who holds the economic and political power here, with or without this visit from the warships.  The reactions reported in this article are just some self-important people puffing a lot of hot air.

(New York Times)  Flotilla Is Beijing's Message to an Unsettled Hong Kong, by Keith Bradsher, May 6, 2004.

Eight Chinese warships sailed slowly down Victoria Harbor here on Wednesday, a rare show of force that comes as democracy advocates say they face growing intimidation.

The lineup of two guided missile destroyers, four guided missile frigates and two submarines was the first such show of military strength since the territory's transfer to China by Britain in 1997, and represented a change of tactics by Beijing.

The Chinese military has been a nearly invisible presence here. Soldiers are required to wear civilian clothing when they leave their bases, and the main base is tucked away on an island at the western end of the harbor. But on Wednesday, sailors in dress whites lined the sides of the destroyers and frigates. The People's Liberation Army described the visit as simply an occasion to honor the navy's 55th anniversary. But there was no such visit for the 50th anniversary in 1999, and Wednesday's display came as people favoring popular elections here find themselves under growing pressure.

The city's best-known radio talk show host, Albert Cheng, a longtime supporter of greater democracy and a critic of the local government, flew to Europe on Sunday, the beginning of a vacation that he said would last for the rest of this year.

He left behind a tape recording, broadcast Monday, in which he complained of growing threats of violence against himself and his family and what he described as an increasingly "suffocating" political atmosphere.

Raymond Wong, Mr. Cheng's co-host, said in a telephone interview that he was also considering whether to resign. He described receiving many anonymous death threats that, he said, had not troubled him but had alarmed his family.

Mr. Wong owns a noodle shop and Mr. Cheng owns a small trading company. Both businesses have recently been vandalized with large quantities of red paint.

Beijing has made a series of moves in the past four months to block further democracy here. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress announced last week that it would not allow the introduction of universal suffrage in elections for the next chief executive in 2007 and for many seats in the Legislative Council in 2008.

London and Washington denounced that decision as undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong that China had promised to uphold. China rejected the criticism, pointing out that the British had opposed democratic freedoms through most of the century and a half in which this was a colony.

Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, tried to amend a nonbinding motion in the legislature last Friday to condemn Beijing's decision, but Rita Fan, the president of the Legislative Council, who was appointed by a Beijing-dominated committee, ruled the amendment out of order.

Ma Lik, the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, the main pro-Beijing party, said that he opposed any threats against democracy advocates. He questioned whether Mr. Cheng and Mr. Wong had really been in any danger.

While noting that both men had frequently criticized him on the air, Mr. Ma challenged them to identify those responsible for threatening them. "We want to know who frightened them, and we will fight for their freedom of speech," Mr. Ma said.

Mr. Lee said he doubted that Beijing would order any direct measures to harm any democracy advocates here. "They kill your reputation, but not you," he said.

Hong Kong has long had an extreme leftist, pro-mainland fringe that is not under the control of either Beijing or the Democratic Alliance, but may have been emboldened by recent strong criticisms of democracy advocates by pro-Beijing news media, said Joseph Cheng, a pro-democracy professor of political science at Hong Kong University who is not related to Albert Cheng.

In sailing the length of the harbor after a six-day visit at a naval base at the harbor's western end, the Chinese flotilla clearly chose the most visible route. Most ships sail in or out of the western harbor without going through the central harbor, which is now limited mostly to cruise ships and occasional pleasure craft.

Joseph Cheng said that the flotilla's visit could prove a shrewd move by China because the well-behaved People's Liberation Army forces evoke feelings of patriotism among many Hong Kong residents.

Mr. Lee criticized the naval display as unnecessary. "Nobody here wants independence, so there's absolutely no need for them to do this," he said.