There has been much handwringing, argument, and concern about the future direction of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and what needs to be done to restore past glories, move to a brighter future, bring back the good old days, and rejuvenate, re-energize and recover what many think has been lost.
At the same time, foreign news outlets seem to hunt for any negative story, or spin some neutral or even slightly negative event into a massive disaster for the people of Hong Kong. There is so much Western spin I am surprised we are not all dizzy. However, an honest and objective appraisal of the facts and a forensic approach to reality on the ground would reveal the spin for the bluff and bluster it so often is.
Modern Hong Kong is a unique construct with ongoing advantages that remain in place and will remain so indefinitely. The success of Hong Kong depends on not turning into just another major Chinese city in the Greater Bay Area but on focusing on the amazing characteristics that still set us apart. It involves maximizing the benefits and opportunities of its unique “one country, two systems” governance model. This is under the basic law, Hong Kong’s independent judiciary, and robust internationally admired regulatory frameworks across business, finance, technology, and education. Indeed, Hong Kong is in the top 10 global cities for finance, safety, wealth, expatriates, absence of corruption, and security, and placed between France and Spain for the rule of law.
Just in my area of science alone, Hong Kong scientists can freely collaborate, participate, and partner across international boundaries, both hosting and visiting colleagues and competitors from around the world in ways that can remain elusive on the Chinese mainland. At the same time, we can now take advantage of the tremendous scientific ecosystem, funding, and opportunities offered by mainland institutes, laboratories, and State research support systems like never before. This is a fantastic win-win for the scientists, technologists, engineers, and entrepreneurs of Hong Kong.
A few recent examples show what is now possible and deliverable: Hong Kong taikonauts (astronauts) to fly on Tiangong (the Chinese space station); moon rock from the Chang’e 5 mission provided to a University of Hong Kong research laboratory led by an American-born scientist (who is the first non-Chinese recipient of the Tencent Xplorer Prize. This tells its own story); application from my own Lab for Space Research to put a science payload onboard the Chinese space station and participation in science missions of the soon-to-be-launched Xuntian (Chinese Space Station Telescope). Such positive space science and technology stories are being increasingly replicated across much of the broader science and engineering spectrum in high-tech enterprises and our great universities. Our unique history, heritage, government support, and savoir-faire have propelled five of our tertiary education institutes into the global top 100. This is an unrivaled benchmark for any global city of less than 8 million people. This is as good for the mainland as it is for Hong Kong.
Indeed, the HKSAR is hosting the first-ever conference on the NewSpace economy at Cyberport on Oct 20, organized by the Orion Astropreneur Space Academy NGO. The list of 40 speakers is not only a who’s who of emerging NewSpace startups, LegCo representatives, entrepreneurs and leading academics, elite business minds, and captains of industry from around the world, but it will also host a NASA-trained commercial astronaut and legendary taikonaut at the same event.
So, stepwise integration into the science and other mainland domains is not assimilation. It is smart thinking for capacity building and greater achievement from within our largely autonomous citadel. Furthermore, loyalty does not need to mean zealotry. Sometimes certain elements fall over themselves to prove loyal and worthy in ways that are neither desirable nor required by our mini-constitution and administrative framework. People can be proud to be both Chinese and from Hong Kong, just like you can be British as well as Welsh or English or Scottish or Northern Irish. You can be European and part of a greater whole but still retain your French, German, or Spanish uniqueness.
So, let’s grab the opportunities across the globe and over the border, maximize our talent pool by emphasizing our demarcated protections and advantages, celebrate our protected and unique lifestyle under “one country, two systems”, and strive to promote Hong Kong as Asia’s Global City and true Pearl of the Orient.
Modern Hong Kong is a unique city with advantages that will endure, provided its people also remain distinctively different. It is these differences that not just make things interesting but also attractive, whether for tourism, education, or business.
The author is a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Hong Kong, the director of its Laboratory for Space Research, and vice-chairman of the Orion Astropreneur Space Academy.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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