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飛行常客

我們的專欄作家討論國家興衰的成因

1 JULY 1997 was a historical inflection point for the great city of Hong Kong. Everyone with any association with the city knew it, and many scampered when faced with the uncertainty brought on by the change from British to Chinese rule.

Twenty years later, Hong Kong’s pivot can be viewed in a rather different light: its talent pool has been enriched rather than eviscerated, it remains a beacon of international commerce and its rule of law, despite threats, is still a feature. The place isn’t perfect, but the change of governance has been at least a qualified success.

This anniversary got me thinking about other national inflection points of recent decades and what we can learn from them, given that the world appears to be facing plenty more: think Brexit, Trump’s divisiveness and the historic transition in Myanmar.

Two particularly instructive examples are Singapore and

Cuba. In 1959, the year both

Lee Kuan Yew and Fidel Castro assumed power, Cuba had a thriving tourism industry and abundant tobacco, sugar and coffee. It was a much wealthier nation than Singapore, which was a rather impoverished former colonial trading outpost. Fast-forward about 60 years and Singapore, one of the world’s great postwar success stories, boasts a per capita GDP more than eight times Cuba’s.

There are many explanations for this – not least the contrasts in leadership styles and economic models employed. But little is written about the role of the individual, about me and you. Cuba, repressive and suspicious, never provided its people with a chance to change or grow the nation. But Singapore and Hong Kong, despite their obvious democratic limitations, empowered the individual. Businesspeople of all hues have stuck around, been entrepreneurial, cared enough about their homes to invest in them, attracted foreigners to invest in them, employed people and built international brands and reputations. Much of this is also true in other successful country rebirth stories, including East Germany and even China.

For governments, the lesson is to trust in their people and indeed in other nations’ people. For us remarkably privileged souls, it is a call to arms in uncertain times. It’s easy to be short-term selfish, taking the easy route out (flee) or carrying on with what we’ve always done (stay in the same job, build nothing new). But this isn’t enough: we must stay, take risks, build, invest. If Brexit isn’t going to mark national decline, Brits must lobby for a high- quality relationship with the EU, build innovative businesses and create new trading relationships. Americans need to improve the lot of the working and lowermiddle classes through business growth and philanthropy. And all of us should find both selfish and altruistic reasons to spend time and invest in developing nations that may prove to be the Singapores and Hong Kongs of the future: take a look at Myanmar or Sri Lanka when you’re next thinking of a new business proposition.

I’d love to hear your perspectives. Please send them to cathayeditorial@cedarcom.hk

對香港而言, 1997年7月1日絕對是歷史上的重大轉捩點。所有與這個知名城市有來往的人都明白這事實,而主權由英國移交至中國所引起的不安,更令許多人感到無比恐懼。

然而20年後,香港的蛻變卻足以教人另眼相看。城市裡的人才非但沒有被榨取淨盡,反而更見百花齊放。她仍是國際金融中心的典範,而且仍然能夠在諸般挑戰之下彰顯法治。這個地方當然並非完美,但主權的移交依然算得上是成功一環。

適逢香港回歸中國20周年,令我不禁思索現代世界多國所面臨的轉捩點,包括最近期的英國脫歐、美國總統特朗普的分離主義,以及緬甸的民主改革等,它們總有一些能讓我們學習的地方。

新加坡和古巴是兩個別具參考價值的例子。1959年,李光耀和卡斯特羅分別成為兩國的領袖。當時古巴的旅遊業正在蓬勃發展,其豐盛的煙草、糖和咖啡資源更令她遠比新加坡富足,然而60年後,新加坡卻能夠從當年貧困的前殖民地貿易區搖身一變,不但寫下二次世界大戰後的光輝一頁,其人均國內生產總值更比古巴高出八倍。

要解釋兩國發展迥異的因果,自然會引來各種比較,特別是她們所採用的領導和經濟模式,然而每一位國民在國家裡所扮演的角色卻往往被忽略。奉行高壓懷疑主義的古巴,一直扼殺人民對於改變和發展國家的渴求。在民主層面上有著明顯限制的新加坡和香港,卻反而賦予了個人充分的發展空間,令各行各業的商人甘願落地生根,在當地創立和投資企業,並且聘請人才和吸引國外注資,從而建立國際品牌和聲譽。這對於其他獲得經濟重生的國家而言,包括東德以至中國,也確實是成功的要訣之一。

世界各國政府應記取的,是需要相信本國以至他國的人民,而我們身處優越高位,更應從動蕩不安當中挺身而出。的確,我們可以輕易選擇短視而自私的路徑,在危機當前繞道而逃,或是一成不變(做同一份工作,從不建立新事業);然而這些都不足以應對。我們需要勇於冒險,留在本國建立和投資事業。如果英國脫歐後全國經濟未見衰退,英國人就更應和歐盟保持良好關係,建立創新事業和拓展新的貿易夥伴關係。美國人則需要透過商業發展和慈善事業,致力改善工人和中下階層的生活。我們應投資時間和金錢於發展中國家,此舉既利己之餘亦有益於世道,因為下一個新加坡或香港可能就在其中。下次當我們籌劃商業部署時,不妨考慮一下緬甸或斯里蘭卡吧。

不妨告訴我們你的看法。請電郵至cathayeditorial@cedarcom.hk

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