Published: 23:38, April 8, 2024 | Updated: 09:53, April 9, 2024
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A balanced debate needed on HK’s future
By Naubahar Sharif

Over the past several months, the discussion about Hong Kong’s future has been significantly influenced by the voices of esteemed figures worldwide. These individuals can shape international sentiment about Hong Kong’s direction through their status and available platforms. Whether pessimistic or hopeful, their assertions reverberate through the media, sparking conversations and, at times, controversies within and beyond Hong Kong’s borders.

The responses from Hong Kong’s own eminent individuals — experts with an intimate understanding of the city’s intricacies — provide a necessary counterbalance. Their insights are invaluable, yet the discourse can become an echo chamber that amplifies particular views depending on the prevailing narrative.

On the flip side, there is a cadre of voices, usually from within Hong Kong or from its staunch allies, who forecast a bright future. They argue that Hong Kong is merely experiencing the ebb and flow inherent to any open, dynamic, evolving economy. This perspective sees the current challenges as growing pains, a natural part of a development trajectory that will ultimately lead to greater heights.

However, these optimistic projections often face skepticism. They are sometimes dismissed as overly optimistic; critics argue that such views are colored by a biased attachment to Hong Kong and a desire to see it thrive, potentially at the expense of a clear-eyed assessment of the situation.

The fervor with which these predictions — on either side — are made and contested might lead one to believe that the future is an open book, readily decipherable by those with the keenest insight. Yet the truth, which we often sidestep in our rush to judgment, is that the future is inherently unpredictable. This is not a novel observation, yet it merits emphasis because it suggests a more pragmatic approach to our discourse on Hong Kong.

Ultimately, whether Hong Kong’s best days lie behind or ahead is a question that will be answered over time. Our role is not to predict the outcome but to understand and engage with the processes shaping it

The allure of grandiose claims about Hong Kong’s destiny is understandable. They are bold and definitive, reinforce our self-confidence, and capture the imagination. However, such claims fall short of intellectual maturity. The reality is that Hong Kong’s future will not be the product of a self-fulfilling prophecy but will emerge from the interplay of myriad factors currently at play.

A more fruitful conversation would focus on the tangible elements shaping Hong Kong’s trajectory. We should scrutinize the policies, economic shifts, sociopolitical developments, and behavioral patterns actively sculpting the city’s path without mercy. For instance: How do the current trade policies affect the local economy? What is the most pragmatic role for Hong Kong to assume within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area? What impact does the recent legislation have on Hong Kong and its international relations? These are the discussions that can yield insights and inform policy decisions that are rooted in the present and have a direct bearing on what is to come.

Furthermore, this approach allows for multiple perspectives and encourages a more nuanced understanding of the forces at work. It invites us to consider the potential outcomes and the conditions that make certain futures more or less likely. By focusing on the present conditions and their implications, we can engage in a discourse that is more intellectually honest and more likely to lead to actionable insights.

The fixation on whether Hong Kong is fading into obsolescence or standing on the threshold of a new era of prosperity is seductive. It offers the comfort of certainty in uncertain times. The truth, however, likely lies in a synthesis of these viewpoints. To understand Hong Kong’s prospects, we must consider both the forest and the trees, recognizing that no single perspective holds a monopoly. A comprehensive analysis must acknowledge the validity of concerns raised by global observers while valuing the informed optimism of those who call Hong Kong home.

As students of history, academics, and observers endowed with the ability to reason and analyze, we should resist the temptation to declare with certainty what will happen. Instead, we should commit our energies to a rigorous examination of the present, the crucible in which the future is forged.

The challenge is to balance the broad, overarching views with the granular, lived experiences, blending international perspectives with local insight. This mosaic of opinions will likely give the most comprehensive and accurate understanding of Hong Kong’s future. Through this balanced, multifaceted discourse, more grounded, pragmatic, and forward-looking policies and strategies for Hong Kong’s future can be developed.

Ultimately, whether Hong Kong’s best days lie behind or ahead is a question that will be answered over time. Our role is not to predict the outcome but to understand and engage with the processes shaping it. By doing so, we can ensure that our contributions to the conversation are intellectually robust and relevant to the real challenges and opportunities that confront Hong Kong today. This is where our energies are best invested, and this is how we can help navigate Hong Kong through its current complexities toward a future that, though uncertain, is not beyond our influence.

The author is a professor of public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.