China’s rise means the decline of Hong Kong

  • With less economic strength the city is no longer considered the goose that lays the golden egg, and in time will not be the premier Chinese city to do business in
Topic |   My Take

In 2003, half a million people hitting the streets was enough to force the government to give up legislating a national security law as required under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The proposed law was to prohibit treason, secession, sedition, subversion and theft of state secrets.

Today, even more than a million will not be enough to force the government to shelve a contentious extradition bill that could send Hong Kong people to stand trial on the mainland. Why?

Beijing’s hawkish stance as well as the Hong Kong government’s subservience have been cited as reasons. True or not, they are not the underlying causes. The harsh reality is that the decline of the city’s relative economic strength saw it fall in the overall Chinese pecking order in the eyes of Beijing.

A place’s ability to exercise autonomy and pursue independent courses of action has as much to do with its importance in political, economic, cultural and/or military status within a country as any treaty guarantee.

All cities or provinces may be equal, but some are more equal than others.

During the early 2000s, Hong Kong remained China’s most important city in terms of trade and economic productivity. But the city’s gross domestic product relative to the country’s as a whole had already peaked – in 1993 at 27 per cent. Fast forward to 2017, it was less than 3 per cent.

Back then, Shenzhen was still a backwater town. Today, it’s the country’s hi-tech hub; its GDP has exceeded that of Hong Kong.

When Tung Chee-hwa became Hong Kong’s first chief executive, he tried but failed to diversify its economy to become a hi-tech centre. Two decades later, a southern city did achieve that status, just not us.

It’s true our GDP has more than doubled, but the rest of the country has grown even faster. The rise of the mainland, unfortunately, also means our relative decline.

Why kill the goose that lays the golden egg? We used to ask that question rhetorically of Beijing. Answer: we are not that golden goose any more and have not been one for a long time. Given time, Beijing – and the rest of the world – will no longer consider Hong Kong the premier Chinese city to trade and do business in.

Instead, we will be no more than another city, albeit an important one, in the Greater Bay Area of concentrated, state-directed economic development.

Without our once-famed economic independence and financial centrality, “one country, two systems” has no substantial support other than our blind faith in so many words.

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