It has been a decade since the British rolled up their flags and headed home, returning control of Hong Kong to the Chinese government on the mainland. The Special Administration Region, as Hong Kong is officially known, has shown resilience, weathering two crises, while its citizens have maintained a stubborn determination to take greater control of their lives. That ambition has been largely thwarted, and Beijing’s failure to move toward greater democracy has damaged one of its key objectives — demonstrating that Hong Kong can be a model to win over Taiwan.

Hong Kong has recovered from the damage inflicted by the Asian economic crisis of 10 years ago and the fallout from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2002. Today, Hong Kong has a vibrant economy that grew 6.8 percent in 2006 and is enjoying the longest economic expansion in a decade.

If Hong Kong citizens are pleased with that economic success, they are less happy about the political progress during that time. Hong Kong is governed by the Basic Law, a mini-constitution agreed to by London and Beijing that promised universal suffrage without setting a timetable.

Chinese President Hu Jintao repeated Chinese thinking about political evolution last weekend when he observed that “democracy is growing in an orderly way” and urged Hong Kong citizens to put harmony and stability before their desires for political self-determination.

If the annual July 1 protests are growing smaller — last weekend tens, rather than hundreds, of thousands marched in the streets — it is not because that message is being taken to heart. Rather, the current Hong Kong government has proven more capable than its predecessor and has defused controversies that once riled the citizens.

If the Chinese leadership is disappointed by its failure to win the hearts of Hong Kong residents, even more troubling is the inability to sway thinking on Taiwan. Hong Kong was designed to be a role model for the so-called renegade province and convince it to return to the motherland. Despite its many successes, “one country, two systems” has not worked, if Taiwanese sentiment is any measure.

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