Hong Kong’s economy was, until recently, in the doldrums, with record unemployment. The weak executive-led government produced so many policy failures, including mishandling the SARS virus outbreak, that alienated it from the public. Tung Chee-hwa’s ineptness led Premier Zhu Rongji to complain: ‘We cannot always discuss without decision, and make decisions without execution.’ As the gap between the rich and the poor increases, social cohesion is at an all-time low.
The ill-conceived push to enact a poorly-drafted national security law fuelled suspicions of Beijing. A march by half a million people two years ago forced its withdrawal. The United States State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 on China suggested that Hong Kong’s autonomy ‘has been tested severely this year’.