Hong Kong must not be swayed by the West’s demonisation of ChinaAug 8, 2022
The spectre of geopolitical disruption is upon us. Hong Kong must not fall into the trap of pessimism. It must be ready to play defence as Western leaders seek to punish China for its success.
For those who mean to put more pressure on China, it is necessary to paint it in the worst possible light. Thus, China has become a “systemic challenge”. Its leaders are “authoritarian”, the Chinese political system is “totalitarian”, and Chinese economic policies are “mercantilist”.
Moreover, China threatens the West’s “interests, security and values”, in the words of NATO, a political and military alliance in which America has the most influence.
The message being promoted is that China threatens what Western societies supposedly stand for – “democracy” and “freedom”. US President Joe Biden has called it a fight between democracy and “autocracy”.
These labels and narratives are designed to stir emotions. China’s leaders since the 1980s have delivered significant progress for the Chinese people. One doesn’t have to buy the Chinese system wholesale to acknowledge this undeniable fact.
However, China’s success can be diminished by whipping up people’s fears, as the heart holds sway over the head. The anti-China narrative pits good against evil, presenting China as a menace to something referred to as the “international order”.
China’s rise is unnerving the geopolitical alliances and security and economic institutions of the West. The continuous demonisation of China is necessary to build support for the idea that it somehow needs to be contained.
This sense that China must be resisted finds its way into many nooks and crannies, including the current race for British prime minister. Both remaining candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have felt they need to outdo each other in bashing China.
And, as part of China, Hong Kong has become collateral damage.
The pre-1997 narrative of the “death of Hong Kong” was rooted in the belief that the Chinese system couldn’t hold it together for long, much less prosper, and so Hong Kong would inevitably fall apart as a special administrative region.
Hong Kong was uniquely fascinating when it was under British control – it was an interesting anomaly – but as part of China, the narrative goes, it would be relegated to the rank of “just another Chinese city”.
And yet, in the past 25 years, China has advanced very significantly in the world, and Hong Kong, too, has thrived. But, at the same time, the geopolitical and geo economic trends are becoming more vexing not only for Hong Kong, but for Asia as a whole.
Since 2018, headwinds from the US-China tariff war have been troublesome enough. But the most dangerous flashpoint is Taiwan, which has been a core issue in US-China relations while Washington maintains the ambiguity of one-China diplomacy.
However, the US also seems intent on goading Beijing over Taiwan. The latest episode was US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island. While the Biden administration has said it did not support the trip, the US military provided protection for her flight and her stay in Taiwan.
Whatever one thinks of the Taiwan issue, the risk of destabilising the Asia-Pacific region is real. With the Russia-Ukraine war at the other end of the world in Europe, it is hard for Asians not to feel a sense of unease that global politics is heading in the wrong direction; somehow, our lives could all be affected.
We need a dispassionate analysis of the geopolitical realities. This is not just a local matter but one that affects the whole nation and demands clear strategic thinking. The stakes are very high.
It is obvious that Hong Kong’s interests lie in China being stable, and able to continue developing and reforming its economy and society. Within “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong can improve living conditions for residents and also contribute to the nation’s betterment.
We should be proud to state that this is where we will direct our efforts, not because we harbour residual colonial resentment or anti-Western sentiment, but because we know where our allegiance lies, we see many opportunities for progress and we have solid advantages to build on.
The source of Hong Kong’s confidence is that we remember our history, we have a strong culture, and we understand the dynamics of East-West interactions through our Chinese heritage and long colonial experience. We need to articulate better what we know – we can be effective promoters of peace and cooperation.
For example, our legal system is based on common law jurisprudence as applied to local circumstances and developed over many generations. The foundation of Hong Kong’s rule of law is wide and deep and helps to reinforce overall good governance.
Allegations that Hong Kong has become a “police state” – as the term is commonly understood – are untrue. This is not a totalitarian jurisdiction controlled by a political police force that secretly supervises every activity.
There are local and national policies on greater integration of Hong Kong and Macau with the hinterland in Guangdong, which make sense, and on investment support in future-forward activities such as innovation and technology, re-industrialisation, and environmental sustainability.
Hong Kong can articulate optimism about its future as a part of China, as the forces of geopolitics reshape the international landscape.