Gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion has built Hong Kong into the in­ter­na­tional city it is to­day. But deputies at last month’s two NPC ses­sions pointed out that anx­i­ety signs in the city re­flflect that its eco­nomic power is fad­ing and will de­pend, as al­ways, on t

Emma Dai

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

Hong Kong will lag be­hind in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion if the people spend too much time fight­ing among them­selves, Laura Cha, a Hong Kong deputy to the Na­tional People’s Congress and chair­man of Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil, warns.

“The foun­da­tion of Hong Kong is our people. The govern­ment, the watch­dogs, the busi­ness com­mu­nity and the me­dia need to be united,” she told a group of re­porters dur­ing the Bei­jing ses­sions, and her state­ment re­flects the con­cern of many of the city’s deputies.

Dur­ing the past year, the city saw many dis­putes break­ing out, cov­er­ing a whole spec­trum of is­sues. Sen­ti­ments among lo­cal res­i­dents to­ward main­land tourists be­came heated. The never end­ing wran­gling over uni­ver­sal suf­frage for the CE elec­tion in 2017 ap­peared to be head­ing to­ward a dis­rup­tive con­fronta­tion.

“Hong Kong needs to ex­am­ine it­self. The on­go­ing dis­cus­sion over uni­ver­sal suf­frage has raised too many dis­putes that have cost the city a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Li Yin­quan, Hong Kong NPC deputy and vice-pres­i­dent of China Mer­chants Group, told China Daily. “The lo­cal fi­nan­cial in­dus­try which is keen to seize ev­ery pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity is wor­ried that Hong Kong may have fallen be­hind the global com­pe­ti­tion.”

“It’s true that in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, all mem­bers may take part in the dis­cus­sion and have their voices heard,” he added. “How­ever, when it comes to de­ci­sion mak­ing, ev­ery­body must be ra­tio­nal. Ul­ti­mately, com­pro­mise among all sec­tors is nec­es­sary in or­der to reach con­sen­sus.”

Dur­ing the ses­sions of the Na­tional People’s Congress and the Chi­nese People’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence held in Bei­jing from March 3 to 13, leading cen­tral govern­ment of­fi­cials re­it­er­ated that the 2017 elec­tion of the HKSAR chief ex­ec­u­tive must be con­ducted in ac­cor­dance to the Ba­sic Law and the de­ci­sions of the Na­tional People’s Congress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee.

The op­po­si­tion sees it dif­fer­ently. They con­tinue to press on with their own agenda. The two sides are poles apart, leading to leg­isla­tive dis­putes and in­nu­mer­able protest ral­lies.

In­spired by “Oc­cupy Wall Street”, the lo­cal ver­sion of “Oc­cupy Cen­tral” plans mass protests to block the roads of the fi­nan­cial district, if the au­thor­i­ties do not ac­cept

the op­po­si­tion’s ver­sion of uni­ver­sal suf­frage.

In the midst of the grow­ing clamor, an an­nounce­ment from Bei­jing at the end of Fe­bru­ary gave a jolt to Hong Kong people. The news was that China would as­sume chair­man­ship of Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion, and plans to hold the APEC Fi­nance Min­is­ters meet­ing at the Hong Kong Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­ter in Septem­ber were abruptly can­celled. The meet­ing was resched­uled to Bei­jing to “fa­cil­i­tate lo­gis­ti­cal ar­range­ments,” ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials de­nied any link be­tween the an­nounce­ment and threats by Oc­cupy Cen­tral that could have dis­rupted the Hong Kong ses­sion. Many ob­servers say that there is an un­mis­tak­able con­nec­tion to the po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion over Hong Kong’s po­lit­i­cal re­forms.

“Hong Kong should ac­quire a sense of cri­sis,” said Fang Fang, Hong Kong CPPCC mem­ber. “The rule of law and so­cial sta­bil­ity are nec­es­sary con­di­tions for any fi­nan­cial cen­ter.”

“Too many move­ments such as the so-called ‘ Oc­cupy Cen­tral’ will stag­ger Hong Kong and cast a shadow over its fu­ture prospects as an in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cen­ter. The can­cel­la­tion of the APEC Fi­nance Min­is­ter Meet­ing is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of the con­se­quences.” Op­por­tu­nity costs

“This is a huge loss for Hong Kong and a shame­ful one,” Fang said. “But as there could be so much chaos and drama in the pipe­line, there was no choice for the cen­tral govern­ment. We can’t risk invit­ing distin­guished guests from the Asia Pa­cific re­gion to step into any such po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion.” He added that if po­lit­i­cal un­rest continues, Hong Kong may see more can­cel­la­tions. “It may cost us more op­por­tu­ni­ties to host in­ter­na­tional events and con­fer­ences.”

“At the end of the day, it’s the Hong Kong people — par­tic­u­larly the pro­fes­sion­als and the gen­eral pub­lic — who would have to bear all the con­se­quences, as busi­ness would shrink and Hong Kong’s rep­u­ta­tion as a fi­nan­cial cen­ter would be shaken.”

Fang pointed out that, though the city hears all kinds of noises, the mid­dle class sees Hong Kong’s fu­ture clearly. “How­ever they are the silent ma­jor­ity. We need these people to speak out, to make sure Hong Kong stands at the fore­front in the new round of global com­pe­ti­tion.”

“I’m not sure whether the

It’s true that in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, all mem­bers may take part in the dis­cus­sion and have their voices heard. How­ever, when it comes to de­ci­sion mak­ing, ev­ery­body must be ra­tio­nal. Ul­ti­mately, com­pro­mise among all sec­tors is nec­es­sary in or­der to reach con­sen­sus.” LI YIN­QUAN HONG KONG NPC DEPUTY AND VICE-PRES­I­DENT OF CHINA MER­CHANTS GROUP

reschedul­ing of the APEC Fi­nance Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing is re­lated to the po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion in town. But I was con­cerned in the first place when I heard that Hong Kong was to host the event,” said Laura Cha. “People were talk­ing so much about Oc­cupy Cen­tral at the time. I won­dered what would evolve when the cur­tain was due to rise on the meet­ing. I guess the SAR govern­ment was con­cerned, too, not to men­tion the cen­tral govern­ment. The fi­nan­cial sec­tor is also watch­ing the im­pact of these po­lit­i­cal ac­tions — whether they will be peace­ful or what.”

“There might not be as much im­pact on Hong Kong’s im­age as we feared, be­cause the can­cel­la­tion was is­sued so many months in ad­vance. Many for­eign­ers don’t know Hong Kong was to hold the meet­ing. Af­ter all, it’s bet­ter than the en­tire world see­ing mat­ters run out of con­trol while the meet­ing is in progress,” she added.

“I urge ev­ery­one to work within the boundary and try not to go off on a tan­gent, which would bear no fruit be­cause it would be out­side the scope of the Ba­sic Law,” said Henry Tang Ying-yen, CPPCC Stand­ing Com­mit­tee mem­ber and for­mer chief sec­re­tary of Hong Kong. “I can’t see why any­body would choose to ex­press them­selves through il­le­gal means while there are so many le­gal chan­nels open to them. I don’t know how many dis­rup­tions they are go­ing to cre­ate. But if they did so, those things will be han­dled in ac­cor­dance with the law. I have con­fi­dence in our po­lice force that they are able to main­tain or­der.”

As voices on ei­ther side grow louder, Li of the China Mer­chants Group con­tends that the end­less ar­gu­ments and the un­sta­ble at­mos­phere are mir­ing the city in mud in the on­go­ing com­pe­ti­tion with Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong’s peren­nial ri­val.

“Too many dis­cus­sions have af­fected Hong Kong’s ef­fi­ciency and made it go slow. A mat­ter that could be set­tled in Sin­ga­pore in a mat­ter of months will be de­bated for years here. We will miss chances in this way. So­ci­ety needs to put some thought into it,” he said, adding that when com­pared to Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong’s ad­van­tages ap­pear to be wan­ing.

“Sin­ga­pore has an ad­van­tage to at­tract for­eign fi­nan­cial busi­ness. It main­tains good re­la­tion­ships with ma­jor economies, es­pe­cially China. Be­sides, the city state is also friendly to talent, from well-ed­u­cated and skilled work­ers to aver­age la­bor­ers. Sin­ga­pore has kept an open at­ti­tude to im­mi­grants. In Hong Kong, it is quite to the con­trary. Dis­crim­i­na­tion against main­land people ap­pears from time to time. But as a com­pet­i­tive met­ro­pol­i­tan cen­ter, the city needs to be more open and tol­er­ant to dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” he said. Cen­tral govt sup­port

“I ad­mire Sin­ga­pore’s ef­fi­ciency. But Hong Kong doesn’t need to look down on its own record,” Cha said. “This is a free mar­ket, where mar­ket share is what ev­ery­one should fight for. Our tie with the main­land is our strength. As part of China, our knowl­edge of the coun­try is bet­ter than Sin­ga­pore’s. What we need to do is make good use of this strength, in­stead of wast­ing time on topics that are not ben­e­fi­cial to the city.”

The cen­tral govern­ment continues to stand firm with Hong Kong. Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang re­it­er­ated Bei­jing’s sup­port at the clos­ing press con­fer­ence of the NPC on March 13.

“The com­pre­hen­sive deep­en­ing of re­form and eco­nomic up­grad­ing of Chi­nese main­land will also open up tremen­dous space for Hong Kong’s de­vel­op­ment. The cen­tral govern­ment will con­tinue to sup­port Hong Kong in main­tain­ing and el­e­vat­ing its sta­tus as an in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial, trad­ing and ship­ping cen­ter,” the pre­mier told the press brief­ing. “The main­land is open­ing up its ser­vice sec­tor. In this field, Hong Kong has its strong leading edge. A pavil­ion that is close to a pond will re­flect the moon­light first. With Hong Kong’s people and their en­ter­pris­ing spirit, I have con­fi­dence that Hong Kong will keep its com­pet­i­tive edge and main­tain its pros­per­ity amid fu­ture global com­pe­ti­tion.”

“We will do ev­ery­thing to ben­e­fit Hong Kong. That’s what we did in the past. And we will con­tinue (to sup­port Hong Kong) in the fu­ture,” Li added, when asked about fa­vored poli­cies for the SAR be­fore he ended the press con­fer­ence.

“The big­gest po­ten­tial for the eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Hong Kong and main­land is in the ser­vice in­dus­try,” said Henry Tang, point­ing out that the city will see big­ger room to play on the main­land as the cen­tral govern­ment last year has an­nounced to give mar­ket force the de­ci­sive role in the re­lo­ca­tion of re­sources in the new round of eco­nomic re­form.

He added that while within mem­ber economies of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, ser­vice in­dus­tries ac­count for at least 70 per­cent of GDP, the share is only 46.1 per­cent on the main­land. In Hong Kong, 93 per­cent of GDP is con­trib­uted by the ser­vice sec­tor.

“It may take the main­land a decade or two to reach the OECD aver­age. There is great po­ten­tial for us down the road,” he said. “Es­pe­cially in fi­nan­cial ser­vices, pro­fes­sional and trade ser­vices, we have strong edge which will con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of the main­land as well as ben­e­fit our­selves.”

The fi­nan­cial in­dus­try is par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about the off­shore ren­minbi (RMB) busi­ness and pro­gresses made in China’s (Shang­hai) Pi­lot Free Trade Zone.

“Hong Kong is the big­gest off­shore RMB cen­ter. Shang­hai FTZ pro­vides a pri­or­ity chan­nel for cross bor­der RMB flow. If we make good use of the zone, it will be very help­ful to ex­pand our off­shore RMB pool. (Pre­vi­ously), it’s used to be a stag­nant pool that people were not in­ter­ested in. But now the sec­tor has be­come more at­trac­tive as cap­i­tal can (now) flow in and out of the main­land mar­ket,” said Fang.

“One thing we can do is to make good use of our tal­ents and de­velop more yuan-re­lated fi­nan­cial prod­ucts. Based on a ma­tured le­gal sys­tem, we should of­fer in­vestor more re­li­able choices. We are long­ing to see the widen­ing of the in­vest­ment chan­nels for off­shore RMB, which will push for­ward the glob­al­iza­tion of the cur­rency.”

“We want to de­velop more RMBprod­ucts. The Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil does not just talk the talk. The re­ports we de­liv­ered to the author­ity are prag­matic and de­tailed,” Cha said. “Some prod­ucts in­volve pol­icy changes on the main­land and ap­provals from the au­thor­i­ties. We ex­pect to fa­cil­i­tate some prod­ucts by year end.”

“Yuan in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion is our great op­por­tu­nity. But (the) chal­lenge is also part of it,” she added. “We should fo­cus on what we can do and (should not) worry about com­pe­ti­tion from oth­ers.” Con­tact the writer at emmadai@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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