In an unprecedented move last month, the central government dispatched a delegation of senior officials led by Huang Liuquan, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, to hold key talks about the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) in Hong Kong, which were attended by members of the Legislative Council, the business and financial sectors and selected local young people.
It was emphasized that Hong Kong should step up its participation in the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which is the core focus for Hong Kong, Macao and the nine cities in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong province in the 14th Five-Year Plan. According to the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area published by the central government in February 2019, a city cluster with coordinated development in the three regions should basically take shape by 2022. However, with only months to go until 2022, Hong Kong is highly unlikely to accomplish the task, by the look of it.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the overall Greater Bay Area development, Hong Kong clearly pales in comparison with Macao when it comes to integrating its own development into the overall development strategy of the nation.
I have pointed out many times over the years the “dual boundaries” that hinder Hong Kong’s integration into the nation’s overall development strategy — the “physical boundary” that reminds people of the colonial past, and the “invisible boundary” of the ideological rivalry between Hong Kong’s capitalist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics of the Chinese mainland
I have pointed out many times over the years the “dual boundaries” that hinder Hong Kong’s integration into the nation’s overall development strategy — the “physical boundary” that reminds people of the colonial past, and the “invisible boundary” of the ideological rivalry between Hong Kong’s capitalist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics of the Chinese mainland. While the dual boundaries still exist, the epic paradigm shift in the balance of global power has created a new obstacle to further complicate matters. It is the alienation of Hong Kong from the mainland that the United States and some other Western countries wish to maintain, in the belief that distance serves their interests in Hong Kong.
On July 16, the US Department of State, along with the US Department of Commerce and the US Department of Homeland Security, issued a business advisory for the first time to caution American firms about emerging risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong, proclaiming that the risks stemming from the National Security Law for Hong Kong include the surrender of corporate and customer data to authorities. Incidentally, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong issued a statement reaffirming its confidence in Hong Kong, declaring that American businesses “have long been operating in Hong Kong, China (Chinese mainland) and greater Asia and believe that this city has a crucial role to play as an international business hub.” AmCham also emphasized its commitment to “foster dialogue, allow businesses to network, to share ideas and espouse the values of transparency, free flow of information, rule of law and good governance.”
The statement from AmCham implies that American companies will not easily sever their commercial ties with Hong Kong, and that AmCham wishes to maintain the status quo for the continuity of American business interests in Hong Kong.
What AmCham is saying reflects the stance of a lot of Western investors in Hong Kong, with many local Chinese businesses sharing that view. A recent example of such sentiments can be seen in the way many people reacted to the anti-foreign-sanctions law, which has yet to be enacted in Hong Kong. Some of them maintained that multinational financial conglomerates should be exempted from the law, given their contribution to the city’s unique financial standing; others expressed fear that the new law may lead to a Sino-US decoupling and suggested postponing its enactment. While the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has decided for now against voting on the motion to introduce anti-sanctions legislation in Hong Kong and Macao, some in Hong Kong have gone so far as to demand the cancellation of the law altogether. All these suggestions are either politically motivated or based on their vested interests, which are invariably related to the ability to make money in Hong Kong.
At the end of the day, merchants are specific nationals, hence capital cannot detach from its national origin wherever they invest. That explains why Western multinational corporations in Hong Kong lack a sense of belonging in China and the city. On the other hand, Chinese businesses in Hong Kong must regard China and its special administrative region as their home base, unless they plan to leave the city.
Political considerations also play a role in hindering integration between Hong Kong and the mainland. What hinders Hong Kong from integrating into the national development strategy is still the dual boundaries. Even some businesspeople from the patriotic camp are hesitant about committing to a proactive role furthering the integration process for fear of eclipsing their vested interests in the status quo. The Hong Kong government should encourage them to look beyond the status quo and advance with the times in planning ahead for their business development on the back of Hong Kong’s integration into national development.
The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.