SCMP Friday, December 8, 2000

HK people 'happier under British rule'


The SAR's "penchant for protests" suggested people were happier under British rule, Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.
Mr Lee, on a visit to receive an honorary degree from the Chinese University, appealed for people to work with Beijing, saying Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was having a "difficult time" because the gap between the expectations of the central Government and those of Hong Kong people was too wide.
Speaking at the university's graduation ceremony, Mr Lee said Hong Kong had developed a "penchant for protests and demonstrations" as if to prove that it was still as democratic as it was in the days of British rule.
"How is it possible that Hong Kong [people] were happier with their lot for decades under the rule of colonial governors than now?" he said. "They accepted their subject status in a British colony. Now they seem less contented with their lot, when Hong Kong has a Chinese Chief Executive, not a British governor."
Mr Lee said many of the protests were not over Hong Kong's relations with Beijing but over domestic issues. "Many of them concern changes that have been held back because neither the British nor Chinese wanted to add to people's uncertainty when they were already nervous about the change of sovereignty."
"Whoever is the first Chief Executive, whether chosen by four million or 400 electors, will have a difficult time. The gap between the expectations of Beijing's leaders and Hong Kong's people is simply too wide. He or she has to straddle that gulf."
Mr Lee said he found the mood in Hong Kong downbeat when he came here in October last year. "People were frustrated, feeling trapped and hemmed in under SAR rule, unable to get out of their economic difficulties as easily as during British times.
"A year later the economy has improved, but the mood of Hong Kong is still dark. It has been a difficult transition from the weakening grip of British rule in the 1990s to the tentative hand of a Chief Executive."
Secretary for Trade and Industry Chau Tak-hay denied there was a dark mood.