As Beijing expands its influence around the world and Leung Chun-ying’s administration is eagerly toeing the party line on every issue, Hong Kong’s image as a world city has continued to deteriorate.
In order to save our international status, I suggest that we strengthen our diversified connections with the global community through “civilian diplomacy”.
One way of achieving this is to develop our city into a hub for international non-governmental organizations.
Hong Kong has a definite advantage over other Asian cities in becoming a world capital for NGOs, in that we have a highly-developed banking system, which makes it relatively easy for NGOs to move their money around, and we are also governed by the common law system like most western countries, and English is an official language in the city.
All these favorable elements have made Hong Kong an attractive place for international NGOs to set up their Asian headquarters here.
However, there are still some hurdles to clear.
For example, under the city’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing (Financial Institutions) Ordinance, these NGOs’ applications for opening institutional bank accounts are often subject to much stricter scrutiny and cumbersome procedures.
Besides, due to a lack of resources and manpower in our government, it often takes at least six months for overseas NGOs to successfully register as charity organizations in Hong Kong.
All these excessive waiting times and unnecessary red tape are putting off NGOs that are thinking of setting up office here.
President Xi Jin-ping’s heightened crackdown on NGOs operating inside China may present both opportunities and risks for Hong Kong.
On one hand, NGOs which have been banned by Chinese authorities might find Hong Kong an ideal sanctuary, thereby boosting the number of international NGOs in the city.
On the other hand, this might also arouse suspicions from the Communist Party that these civilian organizations, which could be closely connected with western governments, may be using Hong Kong as an advanced base for organizing subversive activities on the mainland, thereby giving Beijing an excuse to tighten its policy.
The degree to which we are able to seize the new opportunities while minimizing the risks would determine whether we can truly develop into a hub for international NGOs.
By attracting more overseas NGOs to set up their headquarters in Hong Kong, we can strengthen our presence in the international community and enhance our relations with other countries on the civilian level.
This will foster our city’s unique identity as an autonomous region under the “one country, two systems” principle.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 27.
Translation by Alan Lee
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