Hong Kong will soon commemorate the 20th anniversary of the reversion of its sovereignty from Britain back to China. Over the past 20 years the special administrative region has ridden the rough tides of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 2003 SARS epidemic, the 2003 demonstrations against Article 23 legislation, the 2012 protest against national education and the 2014 “Occupy Central”. But it manages to emerge from all these challenges unscathed.
Chief Executive-designate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, respected for her administrative efficiency, will be sworn in on July 1 to become the city’s first female Chief Executive. She has prioritized the tackling of livelihood issues and is determined to show the world that this once-colonized city can continue its transformation into a dynamic powerhouse. On top of her agenda is Hong Kong’s uphill battle for more affordable housing as the city continues to be one of the most expensive property markets in the world; the unaffordability of housing has become not just one of the most intractable livelihood issues, but a very contentious political controversy as well. It is therefore imperative to conduct feasibility studies of building housing on the peripheries of country parks and fallow land. Let us hope that Lam will not be deterred by the myriad obstacles which bedeviled her predecessors in this vital endeavor, and is willing to think outside the box and implement bold measures to achieve this socially harmonizing objective of affordable homes for all.
But housing is by no means the only critical issue she needs to deal with. There are at least three others that require her close personal attention. First, she must cultivate among all Hong Kong people a more accurate understanding of the subtleties and importance of the “One Country, Two Systems” concept which guarantees our security. This is a very significant benefit. At the same time, Hong Kong people should understand that the high degree of autonomy promised them is not equal to a license to do anything they please without regard for the integrity of the nation as a whole. Those activists pursuing separatism should be made to understand that they need not take such extreme measures to maintain Hong Kong’s uniqueness. As Professor Wang Zhenmin, the legal affairs chief of the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, has made plain: “The state has no intention to mainlandize Hong Kong, otherwise Hong Kong will lose its value.”
Next, Hong Kong should take on a constructive role in international relations to help champion China’s commitment to globalization and a peaceful rise, especially now that the city is a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s perennial competitor Singapore is threatening to eat our lunch. At present, many Chinese mainland banks are already issuing bonds connected with the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative in Singapore to finance projects, and about 60 percent of Association of Southeast Asian Nations infrastructure projects are financed mainly through banks in Singapore. The B&R is a multi-billion dollar initiative aimed at linking Asia with Europe and Africa, and the countries in between with a view to symbiotic and coordinated development of all participating countries and regions. However, given the backing of “One Country”, and the flexibility of “Two Systems”, along with Hong Kong’s well-developed, robust and liquid financial markets and abundance of top professionals with global vision and experience, we should do better than any other participant in exploiting the opportunities arising from this initiative. The recent Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing was a milestone in turning the B&R vision into reality. Recently Hong Kong played host to three Asian national leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan — a clear indication that the city remains a major player on many levels. It therefore must leverage its many advantages in expanding its trading network with the developing markets.
Last but not least, Hong Kong should recognize the huge benefits of integrating with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Hong Kong still leads bay area cities in terms of its banking and financial services. Macao boasts a flourishing tourism industry while Shenzhen is home to the world’s highest concentration of hardware engineers. China’s equivalent of Silicon Valley also exudes the most active science and technology culture and has the strongest and most flexible manufacturing capacity. In a year or two, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, and the Humen Second Bridge will be completed to dramatically improve transport connections between the west bank of the Greater Bay Area and Hong Kong. Bay area development will spawn untold opportunities for all stakeholders. Their increasing economic cooperation and infrastructure development will soon make the “one-hour living circle” catchphrase a reality. By then, Hong Kong people should better appreciate the importance and benefits of respecting “One Country” in spirit and practice.
The author is an independent scholar and freelance writer. She is also the founder and president of the China-US Friendship Exchange, Inc.