A financial expert who lived in Hong Kong for more than three years told Southern Utah State College students that she is fearful of what will happen to Hong Kong when the area is turned back over to China by the British.
Barbara Thomas, who was on campus to deliver the 1989 Grace Adams Tanner Lecture in Human Values, also taught an SUSC business class and told students that nothing is impossible if you work hard for it."What you must do is decide what you want and then do everything you can to get there," advised Thomas.
Thomas was the commissioner of the Securities Exchange Commission from 1980 until 1983 and was only the second woman to hold the position.
Thomas, who holds a law degree from New York University Law School, recently served as an executive director of an international banking firm in Hong Kong. Her experience there and her love of Hong Kong led to her topic, "Hong Kong - A Story of Capitalism into Communism 1997."
She said Hong Kong is to the British what Utah or California is to Americans living in New York or Pennsylvania; Hong Kong is the place where many British start a new life, just as Americans have gone West to start over.
She traced the history of Hong Kong to the occupation of Hong Kong Island by the British, giving them the control of the best deep water port on the South China Sea at the conclusion of the First Opium War in 1842. The city became a factory city and later grew from a population of 2.5 million in 1955 to a population of over 6 million in 1988.
The population is mostly made up of refugees and is the last of the colonies continuing to maintain full employment and industrial peace.
"Hong Kong is not being permitted to remain a colony although that is the wish of both the Chinese and British residents. Nor is it being given its independence; instead it is being cast like a shadow into the unpredictable and volatile hands of Communist China, a place most of the residents of Hong Kong or their parents originally fled," said Thomas.
She explained the complicated negotiations between Britain and Communist China that excluded completely the people of Hong Kong and ended in 1984 in a joint declaration between the two countries that would allow Hong Kong to remain as it is now under British control for 50 years.
"The transfer of the world's most purely capitalist economy to the most purely communist country is a frightening thing to many people and is an event without precedent," said Thomas. She adds that critics say that China will not be able to avoid tampering with the politics and economy of Hong Kong.
She added that the Chinese don't understand Hong Kong and its lifestyle, not enjoyed in other parts of China.
"Although it would be in the best interest of the Chinese to leave Hong Kong alone because of their dependence on its economy, it is not always human nature to do what is the best," said Thomas.
She said she is no soothsayer, but is not so hopeful as some. Although she is certain the Chinese government is well intentioned and wants to keep Hong Kong intact, she said that may not be possible.
"I'm afraid that China's own populace may not permit it to live up to its word."
Sharing the wealth of Hong Kong with its brother to the north, many fear, will crush and eliminate the wealth of the island and Hong Kong as we know it today, she said.