City’s best days might well lie ahead

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HKSAR - SA M B E AT S O N

On July 1, 1997, China re­sumed the ex­er­cise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. This marked the cul­mi­na­tion of Deng Xiaop­ing’s as­tute and visionary ne­go­ti­a­tions with Bri­tain’s prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher in the pre­ced­ing decade. Th­ese were es­sen­tially a frank ad­mis­sion by the Bri­tish that ear­lier at­tempts to seg­re­gate Hong Kong from the moth­er­land had been wrong — all along.

How­ever, what was in­sisted upon and agreed by both China and the UK was not only that Hong Kong is an in­alien­able part of China, but that it was spe­cial in a num­ber of ways. Hong Kong’s rule of law and in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, its econ­omy and life­style, its ef­fi­cient civil ad­min­is­tra­tion, high de­gree of au­ton­omy and dy­namic re­la­tions with the rest of the world. Hong Kong’s deep in­te­gra­tion with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — in in­ter­na­tional trade and fi­nance, cul­ture, and re­gional ties — was al­ready well de­vel­oped. It was there­fore a plat­form to build upon, not tear down.

So the rais­ing of the Chi­nese flag and low­er­ing of the Union Jack, amid speeches and ap­plause, tears of joy for re­uni­fi­ca­tion and sad­ness for a by­gone era, took place peace­fully as a day of cel­e­bra­tion for Hong Kong, China and for the rest of the world.

Thus, a great his­toric di­vi­sion be­came a huge mod­ern rec­on­cil­i­a­tion — a cel­e­bra­tion of fam­i­lies com­ing back to­gether as one, warm re­la­tions be­tween Hong Kong and neigh­bor­ing cities to the north, and most im­por­tantly, a new era of sup­port and em­pow­er­ment of Hong Kong from fur­ther north.

How can such bold claims be made? The an­swer comes from the cen­tral­ity of Hong Kong is­sues. Hong Kong is­sues are weighted fa­vor­ably by Bei­jing. The Chi­nese cen­tral gov­ern­ment makes Hong Kong is­sues im­por­tant ones to re­spond to and works tac­ti­cally with Hong Kong en­trepreneurs and politi­cians. This unique “one coun­try, two sys­tems” gov­ern­ing for­mula spe­cially de­signed for Hong Kong means it can in­ter­act with any and all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in China and around the world to ad­vance its own in­ter­ests.

There are other huge cities which frankly mat­ter more in terms of their con­tri­bu­tion to the Chi­nese econ­omy, and of course, to pub­lic rev­enue streams. But Hong Kong con­tin­ues to en­joy a priv­i­leged place in the na­tional de­vel­op­ment and in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy of China. This is re­mark­able both from a le­gal­is­tic and prag­matic stand­point. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has kept its agree­ments and even of­fered en­hance­ments to them.

When­ever there is sig­nif­i­cant con­tention in Hong Kong which it has dif­fi­culty in re­solv­ing, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has stepped in out of ne­ces­sity to help with its res­o­lu­tion and move for­ward in an ap­pro­pri­ate way that does not em­bar­rass the lo­cal gov­ern­ment on the world stage. This is of great ben­e­fit to Hong Kong. The unswerv­ing and tact­ful sup­port The au­thor works on po­lit­i­cal econ­omy and fi­nance with a spe­cialty in China, at the King’s Col­lege Lon­don Lau China In­sti­tute.

from Bei­jing is man­i­festly more con­struc­tive than Lon­don ever was.

Since 1997, the UK has re­mained a great friend of China and the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion. Thanks to Bei­jing’s mag­na­nim­ity and open­mind­ed­ness, the UK gov­ern­ment and Bri­tish com­mer­cial in­ter­ests con­tinue to be wel­come in Hong Kong with one of its largest con­sulates-gen­eral and the con­tin­u­ing good work of the Bri­tish Coun­cil. This again reaf­firms Hong Kong’s im­por­tance as a lead­ing fi­nan­cial and busi­ness cen­ter, and lo­gis­tic hub, rather than the en­tirely neg­a­tive no­tion, once bandied about by the in­ter­na­tional me­dia, that Hong Kong has seen its best days and will hence­forth de­cline due to its his­toric change of sta­tus.

Mean­while the world’s best Euro­pean Union and Asian com­pa­nies are keen to use Hong Kong for their re­gional head­quar­ters un­der its new style gov­er­nance. For ex­am­ple, Chi­nese main­land, Ja­panese, UK, Ger­man, French and Swiss com­pa­nies all in­creased their num­ber of Hong Kong re­gional head­quar­ters be­tween June 2012 and June last year.

Hong Kong’s cap­i­tal­ist her­itage, demo­cratic tra­di­tions, tol­er­ance, multi-cul­tural and multi-lin­gual so­ci­ety make it an ideal meet­ing place for in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, en­trepreneur­ship, cul­tural and in­tel­lec­tual ex­change, so­cial en­ter­prise and much else. Like so many cities it faces chal­lenges — in­come in­equal­ity, sky­rock­et­ing hous­ing costs, in­fla­tion, youth dis­con­tent and po­lit­i­cal strife. But as the SAR ap­proaches its third decade of self-rule its lead­er­ship has sig­naled its de­ter­mi­na­tion to tackle some of its most in­tran­si­gent so­cio-eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal prob­lems through so­ci­ety-wide con­sen­sus build­ing and gen­uine col­lab­o­ra­tion. This is with a view to ad­dress­ing old is­sues with more cre­ative and less provoca­tive ap­proaches.

The for­eign press has a his­tory of writ­ing off Hong Kong at cer­tain cru­cial stages of its evo­lu­tion, be it over a change of sovereignty, ma­jor eco­nomic up­heaval, mo­men­tous so­cial un­rest or health calami­ties. This time, how­ever, it would be wise to bet on Hong Kong tak­ing off eco­nom­i­cally with new vigor, pro­pelled no less by its in­volve­ment with the Guang­dong-Hong Kong-Ma­cao Greater Bay Area de­vel­op­ment and the mas­sive Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. Its best days may be in the not too dis­tant fu­ture.

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