In mat­ters of ju­di­cial tra­di­tion and pub­lic re­spect, HK has it

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - HONG LIANG The author is a vet­eran cur­rent af­fairs com­men­ta­tor.

The ex­po­sure of four Shang­hai judges over their acts of gross in­dis­cre­tion has made a mock­ery of the city’s high-pro­file bid to be­come an in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cen­ter. An im­par­tial ju­di­ciary that is seen to dis­pense jus­tice fairly and eq­ui­tably is widely con­sid­ered to be a key ad­van­tage of Hong Kong and other in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cen­ters. It is rea­son­able to as­sume that most in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions would only want to con­duct cross-bor­der trans­ac­tions in a ju­ris­dic­tion where they can rea­son­ably ex­pect a fair court hear­ing in case of a dis­pute.

Fi­nan­cial con­tracts in­volv­ing com­plex trans­ac­tions are some­times open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Any doubt about the court’s in­tegrity would ren­der such doc­u­ments mean­ing­less.

The Shang­hai govern­ment is tak­ing the case most se­ri­ously. It has dis­missed the judges who were cap­tured on video sug­gest­ing they were treated to fa­vors, in­clud­ing sex ser­vices. The case ap­par­ently is still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And the Shang­hai govern­ment has mounted a cam­paign to root out cor­rup­tion in the ju­di­ciary.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials called this a les­son which should be taken to heart. It should also serve as a les­son for Hong Kong at a time when its own in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary is al­leged to be chal­lenged by po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence.

Many Hong Kong busi­ness lead­ers, lofty econ­o­mists and in­flu­en­tial com­men­ta­tors have been sound­ing the alarm that their city will lose out to Shang­hai as the re­gion’s pre­mier fi­nan­cial cen­ter. When that hap­pens, they warned, Hong Kong will be­come just an­other sec­ondary city with lit­tle rel­e­vance to the main­land’s de­vel­op­ment.

But none of th­ese doom­say­ers have been able to make any sug­ges­tion other than fur­ther in­te­gra­tion with the main­land to help Hong Kong es­cape such a fate. It’s not clear how much more in­te­gra­tion can shield Hong Kong against com­pe­ti­tion from Shang­hai, Guangzhou or Shen­zhen, for that mat­ter.

There are those who main­tain that eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, though im­por­tant and unavoid­able, is not the only an­swer to the myr­iad chal­lenges fac­ing Hong Kong. On the sur­face, Shang­hai does look like an in­domitable chal­lenger. It en­joys the ad­van­tage of size, and a vast in­dus­trial hin­ter­land in the Yangtze River Delta re­gion that ex­tends along the mighty river and its many trib­u­taries all the way from the coast on the east to Sichuan in the west.

In this re­gion, no other city comes close to Shang­hai as a ser­vice cen­ter and port. What­ever con­straints Shang­hai has in real­iz­ing its dream to be a fi­nan­cial cen­ter and global trade hub can be wiped aside by the pro­posed free trade zone that was ap­proved by the State Coun­cil last month.

In­deed, the free trade zone ap­pears to have deep­ened Hong Kong’s para­noia. This is the time when Hong Kong peo­ple should stick to­gether to up­hold and de­fend the few ad­van­tages the city con­tin­ues to en­joy. The Hong Kong govern­ment has rightly ad­hered to poli­cies de­signed to pre­serve and pro­mote its free mar­ket en­vi­ron­ment.

The ex­is­tence of this en­vi­ron­ment de­pends on sev­eral pri­mary fac­tors, in­clud­ing min­i­mal govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion, a low tax regime, an ef­fi­cient civil ser­vice and, more im­por­tantly, to some, the rule of law em­bod­ied in an in­de­pen­dent and cor­rup­tion-free ju­di­ciary.

Tax in­cen­tives are cheap, govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion can be min­i­mized and an ef­fi­cient civil ser­vice can be built. But a fine ju­di­cial tra­di­tion that com­mands pub­lic re­spect and trust takes years, if not gen­er­a­tions, to es­tab­lish.

Hong Kong has it.

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