Com­mit­ment and hard work se­cures the SAR’s pros­per­ity

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - TIM COL­LARD

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.

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