Date
19 June 2018
Hong Kong has been competing with Singapore as a regional financial, trade and cultural hub. Photo: Xinhua/Bloomberg
Hong Kong has been competing with Singapore as a regional financial, trade and cultural hub. Photo: Xinhua/Bloomberg

How Hong Kong lost its clout over ‘Nanyang’ to Singapore

Singapore’s hosting of the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un buttresses the notion that it is the real hub of Southeast Asia – and Hong Kong is just a part of China.

Southeast Asia, sometimes referred to by Chinese as Nanyang, used to be a source of capital and an important market for Hong Kong. But over the years, we have lost out to Singapore.

The term “Nanyang”, referring to the region off China’s southern border, has been in use since the Ming Dynasty. In those days, “Dongyang” referred to Japan, “Xiyang” to Europe, and “Beiyang” to Russia.

Yet only Nanyang is still widely used by Chinese to collectively refer to countries in Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong has had close connections with Nanyang since the 19th Century.

Back then, Hong Kong acted as a key financial, trade and information hub for Southeast Asian countries. It also served as an important gateway for those countries to mainland China.

Chinese migrating to Nanyang or vice versa would typically go through Hong Kong. All remittances and postal packages would also go through Hong Kong.

In those days, it was quite common for Hong Kong people to travel around Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries in the region.

Hong Kong’s success in the last century owed much to an influx of talents from mainland China, but investments from overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia also played a key role.

This group of prominent businessmen included entertainment mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, also known as Siu Yat-fu, Malaysian business tycoon Robert Kuok Hock Nien, Hu Wenhu, Loke Yew, Fung Ping Shan and many others.

For a time, it was quite natural for Hong Kong companies to treat Southeast Asia as a potential market whenever they were planning a new business or considering shooting a movie.

Hong Kong has been competing with Singapore as a regional financial, trade and cultural hub. But since the 1997 handover, many have regarded Hong Kong as just a city of China.

By contrast, Singapore has emerged as a global city, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by Nanyang’s 600 million population.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 13

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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