The award ceremony took place on the night of June 30, 1997 in the new wing of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. Opinions on Hong Kong`s future after 1997 are extremely contradictory. Businessmen and economists watching Hong Kong`s continued integration into a booming Chinese economy and all signs that Beijing is not manipulating the territory`s market economy are optimistic about future growth and prosperity. Politically, however, few people welcome the prospects of maintaining the same standards of freedom of expression, the rule of law and universal respect for human rights that Hong Kong enjoyed under British rule. In light of China`s recent actions, many people are also pessimistic about the chances of maintaining the limited democratization introduced by the British government during its final years in office. Even prominent businessmen, who talk about the future with confidence as long as Beijing`s basic rules are respected, must keep their foreign passports close by. The June opinion poll found that 92% of respondents believed that corruption would affect Hong Kong`s economic performance after the transfer. (44) Opinions on Hong Kong`s post-1997 future are extremely contradictory, with most people confident about the economic outlook, but few disagree on the possibilities of maintaining existing norms of the rule of law and political freedoms. The best prospects for Hong Kong lie in the fact that the region`s sustainable prosperity is in China`s interest and that Chinese leaders have an interest in using Hong Kong as an example or ”test” in its reunification efforts with Taiwan and in its general external relations. It is essential that Beijing act by recognizing that Hong Kong`s pronounced character means that it must be governed differently from the rest of China, or that a mass exodus of qualified people and capital undermines the viability of the territory. While it appears that maintaining a separate economic relationship with Hong Kong SarD will not pose problems for Australia`s relations with China, there is potential for controversy over political and human rights issues that may arise after 1997.
This has already been highlighted in the question of China`s creation of an interim legislative council and Australia`s participation in the opening ceremony on 1 July 1997. The British government criticized China`s approach to the creation of the new Council as a violation of the joint declaration and the Basic Law, and the US State Department called it ”unjustified and unnecessary.” (34) However, Australia reacted in moderation and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was ”disappointing that China and Britain could not agree on agreements allowing the elected Legco to continue the handover period. (35) The United States and the United Kingdom also announced that they would not be formally represented at the ceremony, while the Australian government decided to participate.