How HK should defend itself amid the Sino-US trade war

November 30, 2018 18:31
Hong Kong authorities should shed their knee-jerk response to criticism from overseas on the state of affairs in the city, and should instead engage in communications to allay the concerns, a lawmaker says. Photo: AFP

Earlier this month, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) published an annual report which warned, among other things, that Hong Kong was losing its special character, as some observers argued, and that it was becoming just another Chinese city.

The report then suggested that the US Department of Commerce and other relevant American government agencies examine and assess whether they should continue to treat Hong Kong and China as separate customs areas when it comes to US export control policy for dual-use technology.

Shortly afterwards, the Hong Kong government slammed the USCC report, describing its conclusions as being biased and unfounded.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor accused the city's pro-democracy camp of undermining Kong Kong's image by seeking a renewed promise on preservation of the “one country, two systems”, as if that were ever in doubt.

Now, my question is: is this kind of confrontational response and attitude helpful in resolving the pressing issues lying before the city right now?

Some people have argued that the USCC report was only an excuse for Washington to escalate its trade war against Beijing.

Also, some took the view that the report was only intended as extra ammunition for the US to continue with the trade war.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised as to why Macau was not singled out in the US report, even though the gambling enclave has repeatedly banned “unwelcome individuals” from entering its territory and also enacted a national security law in line with Beijing's wishes.

One cannot entirely rule out that the USCC report may have been intended to serve as an excuse for Washington to drag Hong Kong into the Sino-US trade conflict.

But let’s not forget that all the Hong Kong developments cited by the US report -- such as visa denial for Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet, enforcement of “co-location arrangements” for the Express Rail Link, disqualification of pro-democracy election candidates and ousting of some opposition lawmakers -- are all 100-percent facts that have taken a toll on international impression of Hong Kong.

Comparing Macau with Hong Kong might sound fair enough at first glance. But the truth is, making comparisons between the two cities simply doesn’t make sense.

The reason is that there is a basic and fundamental difference between Hong Kong and Macau. While Hong Kong has long been regarded by countries around the world as an international metropolis as well as a key global hub for commercial, investment and economic activities in China and the Asia-Pacific region, Macau simply isn’t.

As such, over the years, foreign political leaders and the international business community have been attaching more importance to the state of affairs in Hong Kong than to Macau, and are having higher expectations for the fulfillment of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.

Besides, the initial purpose of “one country, two systems” isn’t just confined to differentiating Hong Kong and the mainland in terms of their economic systems, but rather, separating the city from the rest of China in political, judicial and social terms as well.

Given that, any change in the political, judicial and social systems in Hong Kong is likely to have implications for the overall economic environment of the city.

Therefore, foreign governments could be justified in reviewing their economic policies toward Hong Kong based on the recent political, judicial and social incidents that have taken place in our city.

Having said that, the Hong Kong government shouldn’t have just kept on denying and decrying, especially the incidents listed in the USCC report. It is because after all, the examples cited by the report were all the making of the government itself.

Nor should the administration keep accusing the pro-democracy camp of blaming it for destroying “one country, two systems”.

It is because by doing so, the administration is not only blaming its own mistakes on others, it is also working against any effort to improve the overall impression of Hong Kong among political and business sectors in the US.

Instead, the most rational, pragmatic and effective way to resolve the issue is for the Hong Kong government to promptly explain the territory's current situation to political and business leaders in the US, offer views that are different from the USCC report, and put forward solid proposals to allay their concerns.

This, I believe, is the truly appropriate approach to resolving international issues that a world-class metropolis like Hong Kong should adopt.

Based on this same approach, I have accepted an invitation to visit the US early next month where I will put forward the case for maintaining Hong Kong's status as a separate customs area vis-a-vis mainland China.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 27

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2016-2020) and a founding member of Civic Party