Are recent events such as Donald Trump’s phone conservation with his Taiwan counterpart Tsai Ing-wen, his doubts about whether the US should continue to stick to the “One China” policy and Leung Chun-ying’s sudden withdrawal from the CE race interrelated?
Well, they could be. As far as I am concerned, these events just didn’t happen coincidentally.
To understand the issue, we must first understand some basic facts about Hong Kong’s role in the international scene.
First, the reason Hong Kong remains invaluable to Beijing is that the status of our city as China’s only internationally recognized trade and financial hub is likely to be irreplaceable in the foreseeable future.
That said, China has every reason to keep our social, financial and economic structures intact.
Second, the rest of the world will never be truly concerned about the state of our democracy and civil rights because all it cares about is whether Hong Kong can continue to fulfill its function as a bridge to the vast China market.
However, some western politicians may still criticize China for denying us true democracy in order to please their voters.
Third, Hong Kong’s success lies, to a large extent, in its ability to be flexible and maneuver skillfully in the political grey area.
To put it more precisely, we have prevailed because we have been able to serve the best interests of our suzerain and we have allowed a relatively high degree of freedom for foreign interests to operate in our territory, thereby keeping our city pluralistic, vibrant and unique.
Once our uniqueness is gone (such as our capitalist system and way of life promised by the Basic Law), our distinct advantage of “being part of China but different from China”, a quality upon which confidence of foreign investors depends, will also be gone.
So how is our international status going to be affected by a new international environment shaped by the incoming Trump presidency?
Again, firstly, Hong Kong’s status as China’s only international financial and trade hub that has fully integrated into the global market will be further reinforced once the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington escalates.
If a trade war between the two countries breaks out, Hong Kong will be China’s last “economic emergency exit”.
Secondly, since Trump is a seasoned businessman, he is likely to conduct his foreign policies the way he runs his business empire, which means he would be eager to use anything as a bargaining chip to strike the best deal with Beijing.
That may include using the the separatist movement in Hong Kong to his advantage.
Lastly, since Hong Kong is a highly polarized and divided society and Beijing is on full alert against foreign infiltration, foreign interests may no longer be allowed the same degree of freedom to operate in our city.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 14
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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