CHINA IS scheduled to take over nominal sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, but it promised, in a 1984 agreement with Britain, that Hong Kong could run its own government and keep its capitalist system for at least 50 years.
But, even before 1997, China appears unable to keep its hands out of Hong Kong's affairs. Recently, it was critical of a huge $16 billion construction project, and it denounced the colony's key financial institution, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp., for its steps to move its legal headquarters to Britain.
China only exacerbates the rising anxiety in Hong Kong by such meddling. The bank, which is the parent of Buffalo's Marine Midland Bank, is not abandoning Hong Kong but setting up a London address in order to maintain the confidence of its investors, now increasingly anxious over China's meddling. It will continue to center its operations in Hong Kong.
The euphoria prevailing right after the 1984 agreement was abruptly shattered last year by by massacre of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The exodus of frightened residents of Hong Kong increased and is now near 1,500 a month. Many of them are professional people who are needed to maintain Hong Kong as a financial capital of the Far East.
In these circumstances, China should have been particularly careful to observe the letter and spirit of the 1984 agreement, but instead it has been remarkably insensitive, making it seem that people's worst fears are being realized.
Hong Kong is still functioning more or less as it has been and is a prosperous oasis in the drab economy of China. There are more Rolls-Royces there per capita than in any other place in the world. It is China's gateway to the West and the channel for Chinese exports and Western investment.
But if China continues with its heavy-handed policy toward Hong Kong, it will be gradually killing its golden goose. China promised a policy of "one country, two systems." That is the best policy for both China and Hong Kong, but the repressive leaders of China do not seem to realize it.