How Hong Kong and Chile ended up on the same path to turmoil

November 08, 2019 15:36
Anti-government protesters take part in a Guy Fawkes-themed march in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

This year, particularly in the second half, waves of massive anti-government movements and street protests have been sweeping across the world.

In Hong Kong, the resistance movement arising from the anti-extradition bill saga is still going on unabated.

Protests are also spreading like viruses in countries in almost every continent, including Chile, Lebanon, Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, Indonesia, India, Egypt and even the United Kingdom.

As far as Hong Kong and Chile are concerned, both places were highly regarded by the late economics guru Milton Friedman as textbook examples of the principle of “big market, small government”.

Perhaps just as Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has stated at a conference on Wednesday, Hong Kong is still one of the most competitive economies in the world at this point despite “today’s very real business challenges”.

But the question is, while it is hard to draw an easy parallel between the social unrests in Hong Kong and Chile, perhaps the two places may have one thing in common: while economic prosperity is unable to alleviate deep-rooted social tensions, the ruling elites of both places are arrogant and completely out of touch with public sentiment.

As a result, all it took to trigger an all-out eruption of public fury was one seemingly insignificant thing, but which turned out to be the last straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. In the case of Hong Kong, it was the now-withdrawn extradition bill, and in Chile, it was a mere US$0.04 subway fare hike.

Hong Kong may enjoy a definite advantage over other less developed economies: we have huge fiscal reserves, which can allow our government to devise massive relief and livelihood measures in tough times to ease public grievances.

Yet again, like we have already pointed out, economic measures alone can never resolve political issues.

While we hope that Hong Kong still remains highly competitive as Chan has claimed, we also desperately hope that the government can work more aggressively to mend fences in our society through dialogue in order to restore stability as soon as possible.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 7

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal