The perspective about Hong Kong offered in this post is very different from that presented to the world by the American government and members of its Congress. The US congress supports any and every movement that works against China.
Following on my blog about liberal democracy and the two contrasting governance systems east and west, we should look at Hong Kong and the Two Systems One Country political system under which Hong Kong lives. In view of the turmoil now taking place in Hong Kong, this is a particularly relevant subject.
Recently I had a contretemps with a correspondent who stated that what the activists in Hong Kong want are Western democratic values, a free democratic society where there is no interference or influence by mainland China. Really?
Hong Kong has never been a democracy, instead merely a colony of the United Kingdom under British rule for 156 years. As Ho Ching, wife of Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong recently said, “the political structure that the British left behind hastily for Hong Kong is not a favor for Hong Kong nor a viable route to democracy with Hong Kong characteristics, and much less a democracy with Chinese characteristics”. Highly successful Singapore is a technocracy with a political system described by many as authoritarian with limited rights and it is especially sensitive to the events in Hong Kong. The concern is not that there is a risk of similar problems arising in Singapore, the problem with the turmoil in Hong Kong is creating economic difficulties in the region. Many companies are now looking to leave Hong Kong and settle in Singapore and since Hong Kong has been for many years the financial hub of that region there is a risk that many of the financial services would abandon Hong Kong and leave a vacuum in that sector. Singapore wants stability in the region. They do not want to benefit from the troubles in Hong Kong.
The demonstrations and violent protests were precipitated by an unpopular extradition bill that provided a mechanism for transfers of fugitives not only for Taiwan but also for mainland China and Macau. Subsequently, the Hong Kong Administration revoked this bill but the demonstrations continued and became increasingly violent and destructive. The protests developed into an anti-government movement and they were fueled by external forces, primarily the US Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, supporting the demonstrations and once again employing their favorite tool, sanctions, against many of the administrators of Hong Kong. As usual, US politicians have considered taking action without considering the consequences. In this case, they threatened to withdraw special administrative rights from Hong Kong as a punishment for the government of Hong Kong. The special administrative rights enable Hong Kong to be exempt from any trade restrictions levied by the United States and since 20% of Hong Kong’s economy is built around import-export trade It could be heavily impacted by US action hurting the economy and the people of Hong Kong more so than the government of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s economy is already somewhat fragile because of its dependence on financial services. Hong Kong, unlike mainland China, does not have a burgeoning hi-tech industry. The protests have had a heavy impact on Hong Kong’s economy. Just consider these statistics: since the violence began, tourism, an important source of revenue, has plummeted 40%; exports have dropped by 7.3%; almost a quarter of the businesses in Hong Kong are considering leaving for Singapore or mainland China and even more serious, Hong Kong has now entered into recession. All this brought about by the pointless and continuing violent protests supported and encouraged by the United States.
At risk as well is Hong Kong’s participation in China’s ambitious Greater Bay Area Project. China recently revealed the blueprint to transform Guangdong’s nine mainland cities and two special administrative regions into a new Silicon Valley-type technology and innovation hub. Amongst those nine cities are Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Macau.
However, the extradition bill was one of several underlying problems in Hong Kong.
The cramped living conditions in Hong Kong’s limited territory space that has little room for building additional housing is exacerbated by very expensive property. One solution to the costly housing problem would be to implement the nearby innovative Shenzhen housing policy that caps the cost of new housing. However, it is doubtful that in Hong Kong one could override the influence and the power of the wealthy real estate companies that dictate the prices of housing.
The other serious obstacle that needs overcoming is the mentality infused in the Hongkongers by 156 years of British rule. Hong Kongers have a different mindset and values than that of Mainland China even speaking a different dialect, Cantonese. Youth unemployment has also been a factor in the discontent but this problem could be alleviated if only the youth were willing to step next door in mainland China to Shenzhen the new vibrant growing Tech Hub of China. But the tech industry in mainland China is driven by highly ambitious hard-working young professionals who work 996, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 6 days a week. This so-called “hustle” culture is anathema and foreign to Hong Kongers that have been raised on British, and Western values. So, the more demanding work hours and a different culture have encouraged many Hong Kongers to immigrate to Australia and Canada, countries still very much tied to the British culture. Booming Singapore would not be attractive to the dissidents in Hong Kong because Singapore’s somewhat autocratic government and stiff regulations are more akin to mainland China. But several companies in Hong Kong have decided to move to Singapore for its more stable environment than today’s Hong Kong. That Hong Kongfers are moving is perhaps not such a bad thing, getting rid of the bad habits that were left behind by the British or, perhaps, the answer is the immigration of Han Chinese from the mainland into Hong Kong bringing with them the mainland Chinese work and innovation ethic.
The protesters are effectively “shooting themselves in the foot” by destroying the economy and attempting to bring down the government of Hong Kong. Regardless of how long these demonstrations and protests last, one thing that you can be certain of is that China will never relinquish control over Hong Kong in any political form. Hong Kong was taken by the British 156 years ago, finally returned to China in 1997 and it will remain part of China. Best the Hongkongers come to terms with that for their future benefit and China.