Hong Kong's identity crisis
Manik Mehta says Hong Kong's overdependence on the mainland, economically and otherwise, is undermining its own unique values, ideals and international profile
Hong Kong is an exciting and modern city characterised by the ubiquitous entrepreneurial energy. You feel and see this as your plane lands at Chek Lap Kok.
But the sad fact is that not much is known to the outside world about Hong Kong except that it is a former British colony which suddenly lost its uniqueness in 1997 when it became a special administration region of China.
In the US, for example, not many even know Hong Kong's geographical location. The city is known mainly to the handful of American executives whose corporations have chosen it as the site for their regional headquarters because of its proximity to the lucrative mainland market and the benefits accruing from the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland.
Its attractiveness is further enhanced by certain freedoms allowed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Part of the blame for Hong Kong's diminishing visibility in the world lies with the city's eagerness to placate and please its mainland bosses in every possible way. Hong Kong's piggyback ride on China's economy is also accelerating the heavy dependence on the mainland.
Indeed, Hong Kong's overdependence on the mainland is obfuscating its global visibility. Try telling people in the American heartland that you are heading to Hong Kong and they are likely to think you are visiting one of the Chinatowns that have sprouted up in many big US cities.
During a conversation with former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang at the Asia Society in New York some years back, she admitted that Hong Kong's future generations may not even know that the city enjoyed many of the freedoms normally associated with democratic societies in the West. That would be a setback for those who dream of retaining some democratic freedom.
Hong Kong's prowess in doing business is legendary but this attribute is now trapped in an asymmetric dependence on the mainland. This excessive dependence is diluting the former colony's uniqueness. Hong Kong belongs to a species that is different from Shanghai, Shenzhen or any other mainland metropolitan city.
Hong Kong's destiny lies, undoubtedly, with the mainland; however, the city should not, in the pursuit of its economic interests, succumb to the temptation of jettisoning its unique characteristics, reflected in a relatively free society with all the concomitant trappings that go with it.
Hong Kong's overseas representatives need to further emphasise its unique values and ideals. The mantra is to enhance interaction with other economies, particularly the United States as the world's leading power.
This will elevate Hong Kong's visibility in the consciousness of not only the limited constituency of businesspeople, academics and others who are connected professionally with the city, but also the general public, without which the city faces the danger of one day being completely forgotten, submerged under China's dominance.
Manik Mehta is a New York-based political commentator