Has myopic Hong Kong lost sight of its unique purpose as a global centre?
Po Chung says the city’s purpose is to be a part of the New York-London-Hong Kong trio keeping a globalised world functioning and ensuring seamless synergy with the mainland system, not aligning itself solely with it
Many in Hong Kong have a blind spot about our success, which may explain why some fear it is on the wane. This blind spot exists as many fail to understand why Hong Kong is unique. This may be because we have become myopic and too locally focused, limiting our field of vision to the mainland or to our position in Asia. People fail because they do not look beyond their region or time zone. If we step back and look at Hong Kong from a global perspective, we see that the city fulfils a much broader and more important role. Looking at our wider international role, we can immediately understand Hong Kong’s unique purpose.
If we ourselves do not see, promote, protect and capitalise on our unique international role, then our competitors certainly will not do it for us. Our principal competitors do their best to beat us, subtly discourage us, or confuse matters by feeding the market with false signals and even faint praise.
In order to truly excel, every person, family, sports team, school, company, social group, community or city must have a purpose. Groups that have a purpose are usually more successful and prosperous; those without one tend to end up as just another “also ran”.
Although never articulated in this way, Hong Kong’s hidden purpose is to be one of three world cities working to keep a 24/7/365 globalised world of commerce, news, finance, information, logistics, services, money and people flows functioning, to enable uninterrupted intercontinental transactions.
The two others in this trio are New York and London. When New York quits working in the evening, Hong Kong starts. When Hong Kong quits, London begins. And so on, back to New York the following morning. New York coordinates the activities of companies and institutions across North and South America. Hong Kong does the same for Asia and Australasia; London for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Suppose Hong Kong is on the watch. If anything happens in the other two time zones to a company or institution, the Hong Kong representative is active and ready to receive a call from any of the 24/7 news media.
This important global responsibility was never made clear as Hong Kong’s purpose, but it is a key part of what has made the city prosper and flourish. It has given senior-level corporate or institutional leaders the daily positive emotional feedback, engagement, meaning and sense of achievement needed to thrive in their roles. It has fed the engagement, fulfilment and can-do attitude that Hong Kong is globally known for, and that feeds across all levels of an organisation.
When our purpose is working well, it is like the air we breathe: we hardly notice it. This is why it never needed to be spelled out and articulated. But what happened to Hong Kong’s positive energy, confidence, healthy self-esteem, pride and actualisation? Many have begun to feel directionless, uncomfortable and choked. We are gasping to find our purpose.
When Hong Kong ceases to identify with the rest of the globe and shuts itself off, to only align its position and roles with the mainland, that is when we truly suffer.
Since it would be seen as arrogant to think Hong Kong could contribute and accomplish more than Beijing or Shanghai, we have to take our place below them. The problem is, although these are great Chinese cities, they are not among the three “Nylonkong” cities working in tandem to keep the world running.
A city, like a person, lives or dies by its purpose, values and operating system. Mainland values have worked well within China for the past five decades. Hong Kong, for its part, has become familiar with, and is a metonym for, a set of values and a robust operating system that the world outside China has been driven by for the past 150 years. Hong Kong is uniquely qualified and ready to enable these two distinctly different systems to work both seamlessly and harmoniously together, to create value for all.
Where there is no vision nor purpose, the people perish. Hong Kong is presently perishing because its previous leaders systematically avoided or failed to give us a viable vision.
Po Chung is the co-founder of DHL International and founder of the Hong Kong Institute of Service Leadership & Management