Commitment and hard work secures the SAR’s prosperity
During my time in the United Kingdom’s Diplomatic Service there are two episodes of which I am particularly proud — my involvement, as head of the Foreign Office’s South Africa section, in the transition of that country to a multi-racial democracy, and a few years later my involvement, from the British embassy in Beijing, with the successful handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong.
On the night of June 30, 1997 the senior figures in the embassy were all in Hong Kong attending the celebrations. A colleague and I were tasked with monitoring what was happening in the Chinese capital. He chose to report on the television coverage of the official celebrations while my job was to go out on the streets and observe the reactions of ordinary Chinese people. There were street parties all over Beijing and I simply joined in. I freely admitted that I was British and that we were happy to celebrate with the people of China. Not once did anyone show any aggression against me, and I was able to say, in my report to London next morning, that the attitude of the Chinese people on the streets could best be expressed by saying that I was not allowed to buy my own drinks during the whole evening. We were friends: We had managed a great enterprise together.
Since then I have frequently returned to Hong Kong, the birthplace of one of my sons and thus dear to my heart. Everyone asks me if I have noticed many changes. Well, of course, as in any modern city, there have been developments. But it remains very much the same city in which my son was born in 1989. The main difference, in my view, is that then nobody spoke Putonghua (trying to guide the Cantonese monoglot ambulance driver to the hospital with my wife in labor was a nightmare!) and now everyone does. Changes to mainland cities have been far more radical; I return to Beijing once a year and can rarely recognize anything. It is clear though that Hong Kong has retained all of its long-established character.
Hong Kong is a city which has never relied on government overmuch. Former financial secretary Sir John Cowperthwaite pioneered low-tax low-intervention government, and governor Sir Murray MacLehose balanced this with his emphasis on the importance of social cohesion. These two elements were seamlessly incorporated in the new Hong Kong after the handover. The new Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government also addressed its primary task of providing security and enforcing the rule of law, without the least bit of social turmoil spoiling the harmony of the transition.
The HKSAR, with its ground-breaking symbiotic relationship with the Chinese mainland, goes from strength to strength.
The policy of “one country, two systems”, the brainchild of the late Deng Xiaoping, was and remains absolutely unique in the history of our world so far. Along with the Basic Law, the result of very widespread consultations between many influential bodies in both Hong Kong and the mainland, this policy has maintained Hong Kong’s economic success, which brings an enormous contribution to the Chinese nation, and Hong Kong’s traditional culture, which enriches the whole world. Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty regularly maintains its position as the world’s freest economic entity, and the territory also enjoys an international reputation as one of the world’s least-corrupt economies, a vital attraction. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption is the envy of the world and the territory’s law enforcement system has demonstrated that not even the highest in the land are exempt from prosecution if they infringe the law.
As a British observer and commentator, I could hardly avoid watching the 20 years of post-transition Hong Kong from a British perspective. But the British can never really claim to have done the work of creating Hong Kong. The achievement of building one of the world’s great economic centers on a remote outcrop of the Chinese coast was due to the hard work and dedicated commitment of Chinese people. Hong Kong’s citizens have earned their current prosperity and must be delighted to see the commitment the central government has shown to ensuring stability through what might have been a very turbulent period; the Asian financial crisis erupted in the week of the 1997 handover and there have been other severe global crises since. But the HKSAR, with its ground-breaking symbiotic relationship with the Chinese mainland, goes from strength to strength.
The author is a sinologist, a former long-time British diplomat in Beijing and now a freelance writer, commentator and lecturer.