Mr. Shangkong

Hong Kong lawmakers need Shanghai trip to face up to social issues

Pro-democrats must experience problems in mainland metropolis if they are to come back and ask if that is what awaits us in the future

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 8:13am

Most of the time, Shanghai just means business, but the city has also played some significant political roles in contemporary Chinese history.

The Sino-US Shanghai Communiqué was signed there in 1972, marking a new chapter in ties for the two big nations. Shanghai is also the hometown of Wang Daohan, the late founding chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, which worked with its counterpart in Taiwan to establish the well-known "1992 Consensus". This time, will Shanghai make its mark in the political development of Hong Kong?

On April 12-13 senior officials from Beijing in charge of Hong Kong affairs have invited some of the city's key officials to discuss 2017 electoral reform issues. I've seen many articles that more or less agree on the same thing - Hong Kong's lawmakers, including those from the pan-democracy camp, should accept the invitation.

In my view all Hong Kong lawmakers should be there. But my reasons why pan-democrats should go may vary from what you have read elsewhere.

How can you control population growth in a city when it grows too fast?

I was born in Shanghai and for many years the population of Shanghai remained about 14 million people. I'm not sure when it happened but on a recent trip to Shanghai, the city's population had risen to about 30 million people.

Are the local Shanghainese happy? Of course not. If you talk to any local Shanghai resident and ask them about issues such as limited resources for public hospitals, the subway system craziness during peak hours and so on, you will find the city has its share of social problems, much as Hong Kong does.

In my view, part of the reason why Shanghainese are unhappy is related to a series of policymaking failures at the local government level, where many department heads or even the mayor of Shanghai didn't have enough power to make their own plans for the city.

How can you control population growth in a mainland city when it grows too fast and fights erupt between locals and non-locals for limited public resources while debates over strong cultural differences begin? The answer is, you can't. Shanghai and its population, public resources and even cultural matters are considered so sensitive that only the top bosses in Beijing can make any decisions regarding them.

Usually, senior officials in Beijing may be too busy with bigger issues so they just sleep on matters concerning Shanghai. Little by little, people - both locals and non-local - in Shanghai feel increasingly unhappy and this is reflected in society. Sound familiar? This is what I mean when I say our pro-democrat lawmakers should go to Shanghai not only to meet the Beijing officials to give them an honest account of Hong Kong's social problems but also to experience the problems in Shanghai, so they can come back and ask Hong Kong if today's Shanghai is really what it wants Hong Kong to be tomorrow.

Shanghai's problems won't stop the government making the city a world-class financial centre, attracting attention for years or even decades. But Shanghai is definitely not what it used to be in the eyes of its people. No pain? No gains?

George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit