Con­struc­tive Trump visit to China good news for Hong Kong

Kerry Brown wel­comes the pos­i­tive meet­ing be­tween pres­i­dents of two lead­ing na­tions, not­ing each rec­og­nizes fully the im­por­tance of sta­ble ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - The au­thor is the pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese Stud­ies and di­rec­tor of the Lau China In­sti­tute, King’s Col­lege, Lon­don; and as­so­ciate fel­low, Chatham House, Lon­don.

Un­sur­pris­ingly for a visit de­scribed as “state-level plus”, Hong Kong did not fig­ure di­rectly when United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vis­ited China for the first time early this month. There were other mat­ters on the minds of Trump and his chief in­ter­locu­tor, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. But many of these other is­sues do have ei­ther a di­rect or in­di­rect im­pact on Hong Kong’s eco­nomic and phys­i­cal se­cu­rity.

On the most cru­cial is­sue of all — the state of the all-im­por­tant US-China re­la­tion­ship — the news was on the whole good. Xi in­vested a sub­stan­tial amount of time with Trump, just as he did when he went to Mar-a-Lago in Florida to see Trump ear­lier this year, and when he went to Sun­ny­lands in the US in 2013 to spend a sub­stan­tial amount of time with Trump’s pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama. All of this tes­ti­fies to the fact that, no mat­ter what con­tro­ver­sies be­set Trump else­where, Beijing ab­so­lutely rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of his of­fice and the crit­i­cal need to keep US-China re­la­tions on track. The good news there­fore for Hong Kong, and the wider world, is that on the ev­i­dence of the ef­forts spent on this visit China will not take risks with this re­la­tion­ship. All the talk about a China try­ing to usurp US po­si­tion as a global power, and start set­ting its own par­al­lel com­pet­ing agenda, is too hasty and sim­plis­tic. This visit shows China re­mains com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing time and ef­fort in the US-China re­la­tion­ship, no mat­ter who is in the White House.

For more spe­cific is­sues, Hong Kong peo­ple can also be a lit­tle more re­lieved this week than they were last month by the over­all se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the re­gion. Par­tic­u­larly, they should be glad that the is­sue of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, while still deeply prob­lem­atic, looks to be un­der im­me­di­ate con­trol. In South Korea, Trump’s words to the par­lia­ment were bal­anced and care­ful. In China, he did not try to pres­sur­ize or em­bar­rass his hosts on a mat­ter that he has pre­vi­ously said he de­mands strong ac­tion from them. With the new lead­er­ship now en­sconced in Beijing af­ter the 19th Party congress last month, there has been at least a breath­ing space. Now a frame­work which is at least more en­dur­ing can be con­sid­ered. The man­age­ment of DPRK of course af­fects Hong Kong, since it is di­rectly in the re­gion Hong Kong is part of and does most of its business with. So some sta­bil­ity here is good news, for the mo­ment at least.

On trade im­bal­ances be­tween the US and China, a core theme of Trump in the past few years and some­thing this visit was ex­pected to di­rectly ad­dress, the news is in­evitably — at least on the sur­face — good. Hong Kong will not be swept up in an all-out trade war be­tween the US and China, at least for the mo­ment. The is­sues of sur­pluses and mar­ket ac­cess seem to have sta­bi­lized. Trump did speak about the need to con­tinue putting pres­sure on this area but nei­ther he nor his ad­vis­ers have come up with any core spe­cific ideas of how to do this.

In ad­di­tion, the $253 bil­lion of deals will, di­rectly and in­di­rectly, as and when (and if) they are im­ple­mented, bring some­thing to Hong Kong. US com­pa­nies will want more ac­cess to the Chi­nese main­land mar­ket. Some of these will want to lever­age off the ex­per­tise in Hong Kong, or use the well-es­tab­lished net­works the city of­fers. Any business to this ex­tent on the main­land will have knock-on ben­e­fits. That at least is a tan­gi­ble pos­i­tive re­sult of the visit.

Over­all, though, the sym­bol­ism of the Trump-Xi sum­mit in Beijing, and the ways in which the 45th US pres­i­dent has de­voted so much time to the re­gion, should be re­as­sur­ing to a place like Hong Kong which both has its own strong iden­tity and in­ter­ests, and yet is also in­trin­si­cally a re­gional and global hub.

Many feared pre­cisely a year ago when Trump was elected in the US that it ush­ered in a new era of US iso­la­tion­ism. They also feared Trump was go­ing to pros­e­cute harsh, an­tag­o­nis­tic poli­cies to­ward China. Nei­ther of these more dystopian sce­nar­ios came to pass. In­stead, a lot has stayed in place — a US which is com­mit­ted to the re­gion, and a China which un­der­stands the im­por­tance of that com­mit­ment, even while it seeks its own greater, le­git­i­mate role. So the best thing about Trump’s China visit for Hong Kong was that it con­tained no nasty sur­prises. With so much uncer­tainty in the world, how­ever unglam­orous that is, it is a good thing.

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