The continuing success of Hong Kong has vindicated the late paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s introduction of the “one country, two systems” principle more than 20 years ago to take the city forward.
Two years ago, I did some research comparing, from a socio-economic perspective, Hong Kong in 1997 with Hong Kong in 2017. The result disproves the popular perception that things were better while the city was under British colonial rule. I compared a lot of data from many different sources, and the result showed that on the whole, Hong Kong was in better shape in 2017 than it was in 1997. The nostalgia for British colonial rule makes no sense whatsoever since its citizens at the time played a smaller role in the election of their representatives than Hong Kong residents do in present. There was no statutory minimum wage in 1997. While Hong Kong people’s life expectancy increased by eight years for both men and women to 82 years and 88 years respectively in the last 20 years, the public rental housing stock increased from 704,300 flats in 1997 to more than 760,000 flats in 2017.
The result (comparing Hong Kong in 1997 with Hong Kong in 2017) showed that on the whole, Hong Kong was in better shape in 2017 than it was in 1997 ... Hong Kong is famous for its resilience as it always bounces back from crises. And it will not be beaten by a few bad weeks of protests. But those who want change should be willing to compromise and realize that dialogue is the only way forward
One negative aspect which stood out is the Gini Index (a measure of the distribution of income) as it was higher in 2017 compared to 1997. The unemployment rate was slightly higher too, but we are talking about full employment in both cases. Hong Kong has technically been enjoying “full employment” — below the five-percent unemployment rate — for 20 years.
Before the handover, many Hong Kong residents were wary about the idea of returning to China. But 22 years on, Hong Kong has become the world’s freest economy and one of the best places in the world to do business in. Its reputation as a major trading and financial center and logistics hub is secure. Its role as a connector of foreign business to the Chinese mainland is as important as ever. And it remains one of the safest places in the world to live in with one unfortunate downside: its private housing cost continues to rise beyond the average citizen’s affordability.
But Hong Kong is not immune to the normal stresses of crowded urban living which may have contributed to a fair amount of social discontent among its citizens.
Universal suffrage has long been a bone of contention. In 2007, the central government of the People’s Republic of China announced it would accept the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 through universal suffrage. But this idea was abandoned as a result of the political opposition’s additional demands.
These last few weeks, Hong Kong has caught the unwelcome attention of the international media and blanket local coverage of massive protest marches against the fugitive rendition law amendments. This will allow the extradition of fugitives to most jurisdictions, including the Chinese mainland. It was triggered by a Hong Kong resident who admitted to killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan, before fleeing back to Hong Kong. He could not be tried in Taiwan because there´s no extradition agreement between the SAR and Taiwan.
Hong Kong residents have continued to demonstrate peacefully over all manner of issues. But the recent brutal invasion and vandalizing of the Legislative Council Complex by violent rioters sent shock waves not just throughout the city, but overseas as well where our image is one of being a law-abiding city. This attack on one of its most sacrosanct institutions must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and, indeed, this was done by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
Let us hope that the outrage against LegCo will not do permanent damage to our otherwise excellent international image. There is a lot at stake because investors expect peace and stability as a precondition for doing business here. Little wonder that some foreign-owned businesses are considering relocating their regional headquarters from Hong Kong to other parts of Asia, most notably Singapore.
Indeed the recent events can further cement Singapore’s position as a financial center as it eagerly sought those high net worth individuals or businesses that are looking for a stable hub in the region.
But the reality is that Hong Kong actually enjoys more geopolitical advantages than Singapore. For a start, by being in close proximity to Shenzhen and part of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, it can turbocharge its next economic development by leveraging this.
Hong Kong is famous for its resilience as it always bounces back from crises. And it will not be beaten by a few bad weeks of protests. But those who want change should be willing to compromise and realize that dialogue is the only way forward; violence will only be self-defeating.
The author is an expert on East Asian studies and on EU-China relations. He holds a doctorate in Hong Kong real estate law and economics.
HONG KONG NEWS