Mind the Gap
by

Don’t overestimate Hong Kong’s importance on Beijing’s legislative and governing agenda

When the values of a free society collide with an authoritarian mainland government, or non-democratic Hong Kong government ... the authoritarian government wins

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:26am

Real life is full of paradox, indecision and error, punctuated by rare moments of decisiveness and coherence.

Any constitution document, or the Basic Law as we call it here, that cannot survive the actions of nihilistic fools and the outrage of aggrieved patriotism is truly not worth anything.

That is what the localists have shown us.

Our institutions are made of flimsy cork board, easily punctured when they are no longer useful. The Basic Law is like a store display in Central – it can be changed at a moment’s notice. Two hooligans did Hong Kong an immense favour by revealing that.

Comprehending what that means for business requires an understanding of Chinese attitudes. An agreement is at best guidance, or at worst the starting point of negotiations.

Those who do business in China know that cultivating a relationship means more than defending a document. With a good relationship in China anything is possible; with a bad relationship, nothing is.

China’s main business priority for Hong Kong is stability through the rule of law or from its perspective law of rules. Their vision of stability is based on loyalty and good proscribed behaviour.

Any constitution document that cannot survive the actions of nihilistic fools and the outrage of aggrieved patriotism is truly not worth anything. That is what the localists have shown us

Most important is enough political stability to maintain Hong Kong’s position as an international financial centre, covering banking services and capital markets through the stock exchange. China’s financial infrastructure is not yet ready to assume that role.

Hong Kong has little use to China beyond being a financial services provider. They don’t need our capital, expertise and industry. Don’t overestimate Hong Kong’s importance on Beijing’s legislative and governing agenda. To any senior official in Beijing, the national price of petrol and grain is a more critical issue than democratic development in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has always been a practical business town and economically driven society.

You shouldn’t be here to pursue any other existential dream other than making money, and shopping. That is the most sane and sober way to countenance events here. The only legal document and promise from the government that really matters is found on the Hong Kong dollars in your wallet. It reads: “… promises to pay the bearer on demand at is office here.”

To any senior official in Beijing, the national price of petrol and grain is a more critical issue than democratic development in Hong Kong

But, business can do business anywhere. Like it or not the Hong Kong mentality still applies: you really don’t need that much democracy to do business, the rest is superfluous. And that expedient attitude, where anything can be compromised, is part of Hong Kong’s short term fixation on every economic problem.

The same expediency and vigour devoted to the NPC amendments should be applied to creating laws allowing the Hong Kong government to freely restructure the economy and property market or permitting Hong Kong citizens to be able to do business in China as Chinese nationals without requiring a local partner. Imagine all the possibilities.

Risk and uncertainty become heightened when the values of a free society collide with an authoritarian mainland government or a non-democratic Hong Kong government.

We have just witnessed the outcome of one such confrontation. The authoritarian government wins.

Some of the citizenry may conclude that they don’t live in China and China does not reside in Hong Kong. But more experienced people know that you don’t govern with the government you wish you had, you govern with the government you have.