PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 1:26pm

HK needs to embrace its role in region


Chief Asia correspondent Greg Torode is one of the most experienced reporters in the region. In his 20 years at the SCMP, Torode has spent 15 years as a correspondent, travelling extensively to report political, strategic and security developments. The way the region is adapting to China’s rise has formed a key part of his work. His exclusive stories and analyses are widely followed by regional and international media.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's decision to wade into the dangerous waters of regional diplomacy over the disputed Diaoyu Islands raises vital questions about the future of Hong Kong's place in the region.

Could it be that Leung is prepared to liberate Hong Kong from the twilight world of its post-handover role in East Asia? If so, it would not be before time.

The Basic Law, of course, is explicit that foreign affairs and defence issues are the realm of Beijing.

But it still gives Hong Kong leeway to manage its own external relations, which means it is able to engage the region on economic, trade, security, tourism and cultural affairs, among others.

It has been clear for some years now that Hong Kong has not taken full advantage of these freedoms. Perhaps our leaders have been wary of fully exploring the range of engagement out of fear of stepping on Beijing's toes. Or it could be that some nations are unsure of how to engage Hong Kong, for the same reason.

Whatever the explanation, Hong Kong now punches beneath its weight, particularly across Southeast Asia. Too often it seems like an afterthought in a region that is rapidly integrating across the commercial, educational and cultural spheres. At best, "Asia's World City" seems like a work in progress, at worst a hollow platitude.

The pace at which the region is changing means that no one is waiting for Hong Kong to catch up.

Singapore, in particular, has been active in luring the brightest students, best workers and the richest families to its shores from within Asean - elites that once would have naturally gravitated to Hong Kong.

Just because Hong Kong naturally must look north, doesn't mean it can't also keep a weather eye on its interests to the south and east as well.



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