Hong Kong must get behind China’s vision to join the developed world

Tung Chee-hwa says the city, which has benefited greatly from China’s rise, has good reason to support it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 5:26pm

Our mission today is to shed light on how the world and Hong Kong can ride the wave of China’s rapid growth and development.

Over the past few decades, I have had the privilege of observing China’s enormous success at close range – the many twists and turns and the many hard lessons that were learnt. And all I can say is that the success of modern-day China is not accidental. It has been made possible by adhering to its fundamental beliefs. One of these beliefs is the need for interdependence and collaboration with the outside world. China’s desire to put this principle into practice could not be better demonstrated than by the diplomacy championed by President Xi Jinping (習近平) in the past two-and-a-half months, when he undertook six state visits and attended five multilateral conferences.

The success of modern-day China is not accidental. It has been made possible by adhering to its fundamental beliefs

The intensity of Xi’s activities highlights the great importance China attaches to good international relations. And his message to his hosts overseas was loud and clear – that China desires to pursue peace and shared prosperity under the principles of mutual respect, non-interference and leveraging each other’s strengths to create win-win situations.

In recent years, China has played a significant role in helping the world recover from the global financial crisis of 2008, while helping to resolve or mitigate crises in global hot spots, such as North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran. China is also looking for ways to bolster economic growth globally, but particularly in the developing world. Its “One Belt, One Road” strategy will not only help China, but also many countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia.

READ MORE: Laying the foundations for China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’

China today is a story of hope and optimism. Today, a market economy is thriving. Essential physical infrastructure has been built. Education, health care and other social services has been made widely available. Urbanisation has progressed and livelihoods have improved dramatically.

Many wonder how China’s miracle has come about. Some of the reasons are external. The unprecedented expansion of global trade and the heightened use of science and technology to improve productivity globally have benefited China.

But more important are the internal reasons. First, the smooth transfer of leadership, based on meritocracy, has been institutionalised. Second, is the ability of the Chinese leadership to formulate sound long-term macroeconomic and geopolitical policies, and to effectively implement very complex policy initiatives. Third, is because of the hard work of the Chinese people and their determination to succeed.

Throughout the period since reform and opening up, China’s singular focus was on speeding growth and lifting people out of poverty. Post 2008, the focus was also on combating the financial crisis. They were the right priorities, but unfortunately, insufficient attention was paid to other important issues, such as environmental protection and governance, the lack of which exacerbated corruption. Fortunately, China’s political system is responding to correct these errors, with the support of the people.

So much about the past and the present. What about the future? To understand what China is going through, we need to know its vision of the future.

READ MORE: Challenges and strains await for China’s 2020 growth vision

By 2049, when the People’s Republic marks its centennial, China’s vision is to join the ranks of the developed countries. We would expect to see the already giant economy once again transform itself. This will not just be an economic target. A well-developed economy, a fair distribution of wealth, a decent living standard, a healthy environment, a civil and upright society, and a just society governed by the rule of law – this is China’s vision for the next few decades. To that end, its economic structure needs to be adjusted accordingly.

So, how will it get there? These days, one often reads about corrupt officials or executives of state-owned enterprises getting prosecuted. Indeed, the anti-corruption campaign is an important part of China’s nation-building strategy.

Through its 13th five-year plan, China will take a path of a “new normal”, moving away from an overreliance on exports, investments and cheap labour, to one that relies on consumption, the services sector, and science, technology and knowledge. This “new normal” holds the key for success.

READ MORE: Reviving China: can ‘Xiconomics’ help mainland’s economy the way ‘Reaganomics’ boosted US?

It is supported by five anchors. The first is innovation; second is coordinated development of the various regions to avoid duplication; third is sustainable development; fourth is continued reform and opening up; and fifth is the sharing of prosperity for all.

The country still faces enormous challenges, particularly in the areas of industrial overcapacity, an ageing society, the need for better health care, and the eradication of poverty. Realising China’s vision is not easy. However, there is reason to be optimistic.

Turning to Hong Kong, in our recent history, despite the ups and downs all over the world, Hong Kong has been reasonably fortunate. One of the most important reasons is the economic growth in China. Indeed, the China factor is Hong Kong’s No 1 competitive advantage. The second competitive advantage is derived from its status as a cosmopolitan, international city. We also have the best service industry in Asia, including financial services, legal services, and in health care and education. Our fourth competitive advantage is our easy access to information, capital and talent around the world. These factors, together with our knowledge of China’s market, provide a unique soil for innovation.

READ MORE: Hong Kong must deepen integration with mainland China to survive the erosion of its maturing economy

These four big competitive advantages place Hong Kong in a unique position to ride China’s wave of development. As a super connector, Hong Kong can link the 13th five-year plan and the “One Belt, One Road” strategy to a global audience. And finally, China’s effort to balance its own regional development will open up many new frontiers for Hong Kong entrepreneurs.

Hong Kong is not without its challenges. The stagnation in our legislature and generally in our political system, the lack of understanding of the mainland by many people, and the need for more proactive government involvement in a rapidly changing world, are all issues that need to be confronted.

I suggest you devote your time and effort to criss-cross China, to visit and engage people on the mainland, to understand their challenges and their aspirations

Over the past year, I have paid special attention to the voices of Hong Kong’s youth. I know you have many concerns. You would like to see a more just and fair society, more affordable homes, a better education system that can equip you in a changing world, and more opportunities for upward mobility. This is the direction we should be moving in.

I am sure the majority of Hong Kong people want us to participate actively to support China’s rise, and to benefit from it. I believe many youth think the same way. To do this effectively, we must understand China better.

To start with, I suggest you devote your time and effort to criss-cross China, to visit and engage people on the mainland, to understand their challenges and their aspirations, spend some time in schools on the mainland through exchange programmes, take some post-graduate courses there, or intern in a business in China.

Well equipped with your knowledge of China, you will be better prepared to take on whatever challenges or careers you may wish to take on, whether it is in China, Hong Kong or around the world. From my own experience, anything you do that will make Hong Kong and China better will be that much more of a fulfilling life.

Tung Chee-hwa is chairman of Our Hong Kong Foundation. This is an edited version of his keynote speech at the “China Today: New Dimensions and New Opportunities” forum on Monday