The late John Walden, director of home affairs in the colonial government until the early 1980s, lived through this British hypocrisy most of his life. Calling the late introduction of democracy to Hong Kong a "grand illusion," Mr. Walden said it all in a speech in 1985: "If I personally find it difficult to believe in the sincerity of this sudden and unexpected official enthusiasm for democratic politics it is because throughout the 30 years I was an official myself, from 1951 to 1981, 'democracy' was a dirty word. Officials were convinced that the introduction of democratic politics into Hong Kong would be the quickest and surest way to ruin Hong Kong's economy and create social and political instability."
Eventually, Hong Kong's people will get what they want, despite China's objections; freedom invariably wins in the end. But China's rulers would take a giant step forward by recognizing that such aspirations are not a threat to the country's well-being. For now, however, China, a great country and a growing power, is handling its economic affairs with more sophistication and a surer touch than it is addressing its political challenges.