HONG KONG S.A.R., China -- There is something eerie about watching a fireworks display in Hong Kong on June 30 and returning home to Washington to watch more fireworks on July 4.
The one is a leave-taking of British sovereignty and the passing ++ of a colonial territory back to its original owners. The other is an observance of a philosophy of life and government based on the rule of law that is reshaping the world in a way that will eventually include China.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher busily told all who would listen of her optimism that Hong Kong has less to fear from China than China has to fear from Hong Kong. China, she believes, is not only biting off more than it can chew, but also more than it can digest.
VTC Instead of looking at the passing of Hong Kong into the Chinese Communist domain, Mrs. Thatcher sees the transition of economic and later political freedom passing into the very bowels of Beijing. It may take a while, she says, but liberation will eventually come.
Indeed, this is not our father's China. Everywhere you go, especially inside southern China, you see satellite dishes, computers and the Internet. The Mao jackets of less than a generation ago have been replaced by Western-style business attire.
Chinese women, who once rivaled Soviet women in their drabness, now dress stylishly, use makeup and wear shorts and mini-skirts.
Communism is a dead ideology, imposed by an oligarchic clique that no longer believes (if it ever did) in the principles of Marx, Lenin and Mao but used them as paths to personal power. This makes them no less dangerous than true believers, but it does free up the West from fighting the next century's battles solely on ideological grounds.
The reason communism will be defeated in China, as it was in Russia, is that communism has always ignored the depth of the human spirit, which yearns to breathe free and will not be stifled for long. Freedom will come, and Hong Kong may be the key that unlocks the door.
It is probable that the People's Republic of China will look more and more like Hong Kong and not the reverse. Economic freedom will eventually bring personal freedom because people need a reason to live that goes beyond politics, ideology and xenophobia masquerading as nationalism. The information age will open the freedom door to increasing numbers of Chinese who will see, as Eastern Europeans and Russians did, that their government not only lied to them, but had anything but the best interests of its citizens at heart.
The coming conflicts with China will be about nuclear proliferation and its sharing of weapons and technology with nations unfriendly to the United States and its interests. But that will not be the only arena of competition. The United States of America continues to lift its lamp of freedom beside the golden door.
As for Hong Kong, the lamp has not been extinguished. It now shines in a dark place, where it will illuminate a path others will inevitably follow.
Cal Thomas writes a syndicated column.
Pub Date: 7/03/97