On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Western media paints an evil empire in HK

Western reporters have been painting Hong Kong as a place of uncertainty with its imminent handover to China.

China is portrayed as the evil empire a nation burdened with corruption, soaring crime rate and a repressive regime bent on destroying Hong Kong's brand of free-market enterprise.

Almost every news despatch will talk about China's purported plans to curb civil liberties with Beijing's Tiananmen Square incident mentioned in one breath.

Suddenly, these gwai-lo reporters, who have been working and living in Hong Kong without a need for any visa passes, are talking about democracy and freedom of speech.

For years, they made no mention of Governor Chris Patten as  London-nominated but consider it fair game, in the name of press freedom, to label the territory's Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa as Beijing-picked.

They have also completely ignored the fact that for years the whites dominated the hierarchy of the civil service, especially the police force. Many locals, despite having the qualifications, were passed over in favour of expatriates because of the colour of their skin.

It is unfortunate that most newspapers, including those in Asia, will have to depend on lop-sided reports about the territory in the run-up to the handing over because of financial and manpower constraints.

In such circumstances, Asian newspapers will have to use their judgment on what is news and what is prejudice by these Western reporters. For example, the probable use of the Chinese language after July 1 has even become an issue.

One major news agency incorrectly reported Cantonese as a language instead of a dialect. But the issue of language should actually revolve around the lack of effort by the British to teach Hong Kong folk English.

The inability to speak English deprived many in Hong Kong of jobs and promotions.

At the same time, Martin Lee, the head of Hong Kong's opposition Democratic Party and a Beijing critic, gets the kind of attention given to only selected heads of government a meeting at the  White House with President Bill Clinton.

The United States now sees it fit to lecture China on how it should govern Hong Kong after July 1 when the Chinese have taken back what is rightfully theirs after 150 years.

The amount of misinformation on China is amazing but not surprising because Americans now consider China as its chief potential threat in economic and military terms.

Many of these concerns are rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding. Among the Republicans, liberal mass media and academics, China is a threat to the Americans on the world stage.

Efforts by Asian-Americans, mostly ethnic Chinese, to have some influence in the American political system faced a setback when donations by Asians became an issue.

An article in Newsweek on Feb 17 gave an early indication of what the US media would look for on July 1. Disruptions, protests and decrying of the abandonment of the Western values of freedom and democracy would be the diet of July 1.

It is difficult to impress upon Westerners that Hong Kong is no longer the world of Suzy Wong and that the People's Liberation Army is more involved in trading than military manoeuvres, with investments in over 20,000 companies worth billions of ringgit.

Asian watcher John Naisbitt correctly wrote in Megatrends Asia that the West should talk about how much the rest of China would end up looking like Hong Kong after July 1 and not the other way around.

There is no going back. When Macau returns to China in 1999, i  will be the end of Western dominance for the first time in 400 years, every inch of Asian soil will be controlled by Asians.

The year 2000 will be the Year of the Dragon, an auspicious beginning for Asians in the new millennium.