Why Chile is likely to recover more quickly than Hong Kong

November 06, 2019 17:49
People hold Chilean and Mapuche flags during an anti-government protest in Santiago, Chile last Friday. Photo: Reuters

Amid the deepening political crisis, our city has to cancel a number of high-profile annual international events such as the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival and the 2020 Hong Kong Formula E-Prix.

Halfway across the world in South America, Chile has also been engulfed by nationwide anti-government protests in recent weeks.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera had no choice but to announce on Oct. 30 that the country would have to cancel the hosting of the APEC summit this month and the COP25 climate summit in December.

If the Hong Kong government had not expected the now-withdrawn extradition bill to cause such turmoil, it would also be fair to say that the Chilean government was caught equally off guard by the nationwide riots triggered by a mere US$0.04 subway fare hike.

The proposed fare hike, no matter how mild, provoked a huge public backlash across Chile, not least because the country has been riddled with “deep-rooted” social conflicts such as wealth inequality and blocked social mobility over the years. Different aspects of their daily living involving food, accommodation and transport are also deteriorating under existing policies.

The subway fare hike was the last straw, prompting Chileans to give vent to their anger and rise up against their government.

Piñera was quick in meeting protesters’ demands. He immediately scrapped the fare hike, pledged to increase the national minimum wage, raised taxes on high-income citizens and overhauled his cabinet.

Things might look bad for Chile for now, but as long as Piñera stays the course in delivering his promises and answers mounting public calls for amending the constitution in order to enhance state commitment to social welfare, he still stands a pretty good chance of being able to defuse the crisis.

Things in Hong Kong are a lot more complicated, not least because our government only has very limited room for political maneuver. It has to meet the central government’s directive to make the task of stopping violence and chaos a top priority, and it has to throw its weight behind the police despite its escalating brutality.

As a consequence, the SAR administration has often found itself hamstrung when it comes to answering the demands of protesters ever since the protests broke out in June.

Suffice it to say that the outlook for Hong Kong looks less promising than that of Chile.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal