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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pragmatism Can Preserve Hong Kong

The Tiananmen Square massacre may have created a popular image of the Chinese communists as an authoritarian, die-hard regime, but the Beijing government is also pragmatic -- and that is the hope for Hong Kong.

While China is seizing the historical opportunity to take back the British colony, which was sundered from it by an unjust treaty 99 years ago, its Communist rulers will be careful not to do anything rash.

There will no doubt be huge demonstrations to prove that China is the boss in the territory. Troops will be deployed and irredentist rhetoric will run high.

But the same regime that preached communism while rushing into a wild free market should have no difficulty proclaiming the triumphant reunification of mainland China while, at the same time, preserving Hong Kong's unique identity. "One country, two systems," as Deng Xiaoping so aptly put it.

The incentives for doing so are clear. Hong Kong has a booming economy that will continue to serve as a key entrep™t and financial center between China and the rest of the world. Beijing must be careful not to make any rash moves that would jeopardize that role.

It appears that members of the old guard in China are very aware of what is at stake. Beijing has carefully avoided antagonizing business sentiment in the colony, appointing a pro-business leader, Tung Chee-hwa, to replace outgoing British Viceroy Chris Patten and declaring that the territory will enjoy special status within China as an enclave of capitalist independence.

China will be forced to walk a tightrope on human rights, where it must avoid rekindling the memory of Tiananmen. The regime is no friend to pluralism, and it will probably discourage any aggressive dissent that could spread to the rest of the country; but it must try not to provoke mass protest in Hong Kong by the sort of rigid censorship and political suppression that are the rule in China.

The West has let China know that its performance on human rights in Hong Kong will be viewed as a test case of its fitness to join the world community. China's application to join the World Trade Organization will go nowhere if human rights and the rule of law are trampled in Hong Kong.

An even bigger incentive for Beijing to show pragmatism in Hong Kong is the hope that one day China will be able to take back the much bigger jewel of Taiwan.

In its dealings on Hong Kong, China has so far shown an ability to temper its ideology, communist or imperialist, in the interests of achieving long-term geopolitical and economic goals. It will need the same flexibility and pragmatism now that Hong Kong is once again sovereign Chinese territory.