Because Hong Kong is a center for the regional press as well as the Chinese-language media worldwide, its return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1 was a matter of great concern for press freedom advocates. China's dismal record on freedom of expression sparked fears that Hong Kong's liberal media environment might wither under the stewardship of the mainland. With local journalists warning of a rise in self-censorship in the face of the transition, and Beijing giving conflicting signals leading up to the handover, CPJ followed Hong Kong closely throughout the year. (See "Freedom Under the Dragon: Can Hong Kong's Press Still Breathe Fire?") By year's end, however, Hong Kong's press did not seem substantially changed by the turnover, and journalists reported that they were able to go about their business with little sign of intervention from Beijing.

Before the economic meltdown that sent stock markets and currencies tumbling across the region, the biggest Asian story of the year was the July 1 handover of Hong Kong to China, ending 156 years of British colonial rule. In September, the two stories came together, after a fashion, at a CPJ-sponsored forum in Hong Kong timed to coincide with the World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual meetings, the first major international gathering in the territory after the handover. At the session, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers called the preservation of press freedom a key to a healthy economy not only for Hong Kong but for all of Asia. "Hong Kong has an enormous chance to continue to prosper as it has as a financial center, but its success will depend critically on the sense that any and all information can flow freely and accurately, whether it is convenient or whether it is inconvenient," Summers told the forum.

Summers' theme became a familiar refrain as the region's once-prosperous economies faced tough reforms and calls for greater openness. "A free and undisturbed press is important because that is the vehicle through which information is conveyed, and, once conveyed, is trusted," said Summers. "Information is at the center of what makes financial markets work."

The free flow of information through Hong Kong's media has been pivotal as the international focus on the regional economic crisis intensifies. Hong Kong is the center of both media and finance for much of Asia, and if the region is to return to economic vitality, investors and citizens alike will need accurate, timely information on which to base renewed confidence for the future.

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