Twenty Years On, An Uncertain Future For Hong Kong?
By admin July 5, 2017

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In his final address as the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten reflected upon how British administration of the autonomous territory had built the scaffold to allow the people of Hong Kong to ascend. Now, 20 years on, China, the giant on its doorstep, stands to test the promise of the “one country, two systems” constitutional principle as the special administrative region grapples with a profound sense of foreboding and uncertainty as to its future.

When Britain handed over control of Hong Kong to China the metropolis was a flourishing international port and global financial hub with a vibrant mixture of Western and Asian cultural influences. It was promised to Hong Kong that it would retain a “high degree of autonomy,” including the guarantee of wide-ranging civil liberties and freedoms, not enjoyed by their counterparts on the mainland, as well as an undated promise for universal suffrage. However, with China’s steadfast economic development, culminating in becoming the world’s second largest economy, Hong Kong’s status as China’s gateway to the rest of the world has been challenged by mainland cities while the central governments authoritarian policies have questionably encroached upon the liberal values and rule of law that Hong Kongers were promised to routinely enjoy throughout the 50 year handover agreement.

During this period, Beijing’s influence on the archipelago has gone from that of a “light touch” to a creeping interference in Hong Kong’s political, social and economic affairs. There has been increased pressure from Beijing on academic freedoms, attacks on the judiciary and rule of law and suspicious disappearances of booksellers specializing in politically sensitive material in 2015. These concerns are further compounded in Hong Kong by an intensifying housing affordability crisis, sluggish growth and retail woes as Beijing’s crackdown on corruption has squeezed cash flow in Hong Kong’s lucrative retail industry.

However, undoubtedly the most troublesome issue facing Hong Kong remains the unyielding fight over its political future – a dispute between Beijing-backed leadership and pro-democracy supporters. The 20 year handover commemorations have spotlighted this quarrel with increasing tensions ensuing between the two governance systems. This juxtaposition was showcased in Hong Kong on Saturday when Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed the celebration as a toast to Chinese reunification while tens of thousands of activists took to the streets for the annual pro-democracy march calling for “more democracy.”

The growing unease amongst Hong Kongers that China seeks to erode Hong Kong’s distinctive political culture has lead to a confrontational local independence movement made up of mostly young people, too young to remember Tiananmen Square, who feel that “politically, economically and culturally, we are getting more and more dependent on China” according to Chung Yick, one of Hong Kong’s dubbed “handover kids.”

Despite the political tension, Hong Kong remains economically indispensable to China – and the mainland knows and embraces that fact. Hong Kong’s trustworthy legal system ensures it remains an attractive and stable investment environment for foreigners with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development placing Hong Kong second only to the US and ahead of China with US$175 billion in global foreign direct investment inflows in 2015. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s world-class service platform has seen 60 percent of China’s outbound investment flow through Hong Kong to various international investment initiatives. While perhaps not the financial intermediary to the rest of the world it once was when it accounted for 16 percent of China’s GDP in 1997 (it now accounts for 3 percent), Hong Kong continues to act as a valuable conduit for both funnelling capital and technology from all over the world into China while also presenting Chinese enterprises to the global market.

Considering Hong Kong’s close economic, cultural and political ties to the West it is highly unlikely that any attempts from Beijing to merge Hong Kong within the political fabric of the mainland will go unchallenged yet, at the same time, its future remains shrouded in uncertainty. Thus, with China positioned to take full control in 2047, will Hong Kong have to reinvent itself as China’s global dominance continues to grow?

Read More:

Looming large: The Future of Hong Kong in the shadow of China

Young People Have Their Say About the Future of Hong Kong

Hong Kong 20th Anniversary: Chris Patten, the Last Colonial Governor, Recalls the City’s Handover

One Hong Kong, two sentiments after 20 years of Chinese rule

Who needs who the most: Hong Kong or China?

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