My Take

We need a third way in diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 12:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 1:02am

Over lunch with several hacks, Leung Chun-ying once waxed lyrical about something called "internal diplomacy" in dealing with the mainland. We weren't sure what he meant. But in retrospect, he was being prescient.

There is strong evidence that Beijing puts a much tighter leash on Leung than his predecessors. If anyone needs internal diplomacy, it's Leung. But it's not just him. We all do, desperately.

Up to now, Hong Kong has only two modes in dealing with Beijing. There is the subservient/cry-baby mode, which is to follow slavishly Beijing's demands and expectations, whether real or imagined, and cry for daddy whenever trouble arises. Let's call this the DAB/tycoon mode. There is the opposite approach, which is to criticise and oppose Beijing and mainland officials for anything they say or do about Hong Kong, or even not about Hong Kong. This is the pan-democrat mode.

Yet, everywhere, great powers and major international organisations are redefining relations and alliances, and reworking multi-dimensional approaches to address the web of complex dealings with this new colossus called China. But we, of all people, have only those two primitive modes. Leung is onto something about internal diplomacy, though he is probably the worst person to articulate it.

As he explains it, under our constitutional setup, we are more than a city and the chief executive is not just a mayor. He would agree with my brilliant young friend Nick Gordon who has argued that Hong Kong - and Macau - have many of the trappings of sovereign states: their own currencies, borders, passports, legal and tax systems and fiscal independence. We have membership in international groups like the World Trade Organisation and Apec. Under myriad global treaties and regimes, we have our own foreign relations, if not a formal foreign policy prohibited under the Basic Law.

So, how should we deal with Beijing? Historically, the south had always been the furthest from the influence of central authority. That distance has been formally codified in "one country, two systems" and acknowledged by Beijing. Between autonomy and subservience, there is a third way to our future prosperity and liberty. A future leader who works out this new "diplomacy" gets my vote.