Sta­bil­ity is foun­da­tion of re­form, devel­op­ment

China Daily Global Edition (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert Lawrence Kuhn

Among the top­ics I think I know well, I do not count Hong Kong. Although I visit Hong Kong, have friends in Hong Kong and re­search Hong Kong for my writ­ings — for ex­am­ple, its repa­tri­a­tion to China and the Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis, both in 1997, and the re­cent Greater Bay Area coordinate­d devel­op­ment plan — I do not know Hong Kong like I know Bei­jing.

That’s why, when the protest move­ment be­gan, I was re­luc­tant, at least ini­tially, to ac­cept in­ter­view re­quests from the in­ter­na­tional me­dia. If I could not speak au­thor­i­ta­tively, I should not speak at all.

But as the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ued de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and the re­quests kept com­ing, I be­gan to con­sider what I do know. In writ­ing my book How China’s Lead­ers Think, I spoke with dozens of Chi­nese lead­ers and of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing then Zhe­jiang Party Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping, who ad­vised me to think of China both hor­i­zon­tally in its great geo­graphic di­ver­sity and ver­ti­cally in its long history of civ­i­liza­tion.

When I am in­ter­viewed on Hong Kong, I be­gin with ba­sics: Why is Hong Kong so im­por­tant to China? I of­fer five rea­sons — two eco­nomic, three po­lit­i­cal.

The first is that Hong Kong has been the gate­way for do­ing busi­ness in China, fa­cil­i­tat­ing re­form and open­ing-up and cat­alyz­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic mir­a­cle. But with the rise of main­land mar­kets, ex­em­pli­fied by Shang­hai and Shen­zhen, this role has di­min­ished.

The sec­ond eco­nomic rea­son is the Guang­dong-Hong Kong-Ma­cau Greater Bay Area, a vi­tal strat­egy for trans­form­ing China’s econ­omy via coordinate­d devel­op­ment. The Greater Bay Area’s GDP is around $1.7 tril­lion, or 12 per­cent of China’s GDP, and is pro­jected to reach around $3.5 tril­lion by 2030. If the Greater Bay Area were a coun­try, its GDP would rank al­most in the world’s top 10.

The first po­lit­i­cal rea­son of Hong Kong’s im­por­tance to China is that it ex­em­pli­fies the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” pol­icy that en­ables Hong Kong’s spe­cial sta­tus. The sec­ond is that Hong Kong rep­re­sents China’s his­toric recla­ma­tion, af­ter more than a cen­tury of op­pres­sion and hu­mil­i­a­tion, of global pres­ence and im­por­tance. The third is that Hong Kong re­flects China’s in­ter­na­tional im­age and soft power.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment seeks the best for Hong Kong, stress­ing so­cial sta­bil­ity, es­sen­tial for eco­nomic devel­op­ment, and rule of law, es­sen­tial for so­cial devel­op­ment. Bei­jing will de­fer to the lo­cal Hong Kong gov­ern­ment as much as pos­si­ble and as long as pos­si­ble, thus sus­tain­ing the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” pol­icy.

But three red lines can­not be crossed: move­ment to­ward Hong Kong in­de­pen­dence or even quasi-in­de­pen­dence, which in­cludes oneper­son-one vote elec­tions for lo­cal lead­ers; us­ing Hong Kong to un­der­mine the main­land’s Party-led po­lit­i­cal sys­tem; and unending chaos such that Hong Kong’s eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity would be threat­ened.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment will make the ab­so­lute min­i­mum in­ter­ven­tions nec­es­sary to safe­guard th­ese three red lines, but it will, un­der all cir­cum­stances, safe­guard them. In a re­cent news con­fer­ence, Zhang Xiaom­ing, direc­tor of the Hong Kong and Ma­cao Af­fairs Of­fice of the State Coun­cil, said the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties will never sit by if the sit­u­a­tion in Hong Kong wors­ens to a level of tur­moil that the SAR gov­ern­ment can­not con­trol.

Given in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness, the tur­moil in Hong Kong can­not be much quar­an­tined from all China, where sta­bil­ity has been the foun­da­tion for re­form and devel­op­ment. In his do­mes­tic pol­icy, President Xi pledges to win the “three tough bat­tles” — pre­vent­ing fi­nan­cial risks, re­duc­ing poverty and tack­ling pol­lu­tion.

If so­cial tur­moil in Hong Kong seems un­re­lated to, say, poverty al­le­vi­a­tion on the main­land, this is the crux of the mat­ter, as seen by China’s lead­ers.

China’s eco­nomic growth has lifted over 750 mil­lion Chi­nese out of poverty, the great­est suc­cess story in hu­man history. In late 2012, when Xi be­came China’s se­nior leader, there were about 100 mil­lion Chi­nese who would re­main in­tractably poor. Xi as­serts that China can­not be a “mod­er­ately pros­per­ous so­ci­ety” by 2021 — China’s first na­tional goal — if any of its cit­i­zens live be­low the line of ab­so­lute poverty. Hence, Xi mo­bi­lized the Party and the coun­try to fight poverty.

Who can deny that China’s as­tound­ing suc­cess in poverty al­le­vi­a­tion is re­lated to po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and Party lead­er­ship?

All forms of gov­er­nance sys­tems have trade-offs, and only col­lec­tive hu­man wis­dom can dis­cern what is op­ti­mum for each so­cial group un­der its own con­di­tions at its own times. But I’m rather con­fi­dent that, un­der China’s con­di­tions, the vast ma­jor­ity of those hun­dreds of mil­lions of Chi­nese who have been lifted out of poverty would be pleased that po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity en­abled eco­nomic devel­op­ment and Party lead­er­ship de­liv­ered poverty al­le­vi­a­tion.

Look­ing for­ward, Hong Kong is China and will re­main China. While no doubt some rad­i­cals fa­vor vi­o­lence, and some Western politi­cians en­cour­age protests, the chal­lenge for Chi­nese wis­dom is to see what it will take, in the long term, to se­cure the kind of ro­bust sta­bil­ity that em­pow­ers creative, dy­namic, knowl­edge-based devel­op­ment for the ben­e­fit of all.

The author is host and writer of the fea­ture doc­u­men­tary Voices From the Front­line: China’s War on Poverty and a 2018 re­cip­i­ent of the China Re­form Friend­ship Medal. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

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