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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 9:50pm
NewsChina

China’s FTZ plan a ‘political message’ to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:46pm
 

Plans for China’s first free trade zone -- seen as a threat to Hong Kong’s status as a finance hub -- are also a tool to dampen political protest in the city, analysts say.

The FTZ in Shanghai will allow unfettered exchange of China’s yuan currency as part of a bold push to reform the world’s second largest economy, according to proposals revealed exclusively by AFP earlier this month.

Experts have already urged Hong Kong to improve its economic environment, including tackling high rents and labour costs, if it wants to compete with the new trade and finance hub.

But senior Beijing officials last week warned the ex-British colony that it also needs to curb increasing political dissent if it wants to thrive and analysts say the promotion of Shanghai is an indirect message to Hong Kong to cooperate politically, or be marginalised economically.

“Beijing is using a softline economic approach to groom Shanghai to compete with, or possibly replace Hong Kong. The implicit message is clear that if Hong Kong continues to have political squabbles, its economic status will suffer greatly,” Sonny Lo, a social scientist at Hong Kong Institute of Education, told AFP.

Yu Zhengsheng, the leader of Beijing’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, both called for “unity” in the city last week.

“(Wang) called on us to think clearly whether Hong Kong should be a city for political struggle or economic development,” said Walter Kwok, part of a Hong Kong delegation addressed by Wang in Beijing Tuesday, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

Yu spoke to the same delegation, asking Hong Kong to “stay united and comply with the Basic Law under all circumstances,” if it wanted to enhance its competitiveness, the Post reported. He described Hong Kong society has having unwelcome “noise”, local media said.

Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Hong Kong’s Chinese University, said the remarks by Beijing officials were a bid to “create a stabilising force” amid current political unrest.

Under British rule, Hong Kong was transformed into one of the freest world economies and an international finance centre, outpacing economic development in Chinese cities.

Doubts were cast over its ability to retain its status after the handover from Britain to China in 1997, while Shanghai flourished during a period of stellar economic growth overseen by president Jiang Zemin.

After Jiang retired from the last of his national posts in 2005, several members of his powerful “Shanghai Gang” political clique were dismissed in corruption trials, widely seen as a move by new president Hu Jintao to rein in the city’s powerbase.

But with Xi Jinping taking over from Hu in March this year, Shanghai appears to be back on the map, as mainland critics increasingly gun for Hong Kong over anti-Beijing democracy protests.

In the past 10 years, the southern Chinese territory has witnessed frequent demonstrations and increasing discontent, with opposition groups denouncing the city’s government as a puppet of Beijing.

Pressure from democrats is increasing as Hong Kong approaches the deadline for the introduction of universal suffrage, which Beijing has pledged for 2017.

Some activists have threatened to seize the main streets of key business district Central next year to force officials to guarantee a fair electoral system.

Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, based in Hong Kong and considered pro-Beijing, also said Tuesday that the city’s pro-democracy movement Occupy Central could harm its economy.

Although Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous region of China, Beijing sees Hong Kong as a subordinate, political analyst Johnny Lau told AFP.

“The thinking is that if you (Hong Kong) can coordinate with me, I will let you in. But I (China) can also make several places like Hong Kong in the mainland,” he said of China’s FTZ strategy.

“Beijing has lost its patience... this is a wake-up call.”

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This article is now closed to comments

EHI
#2 Furthermore, both macro- and microeconomics suggests the little influence the British government had in the role of Hong Kong's growth and development. Instead of getting caught up in popularized notions, the question begs to be asked is: how much further Hong Kong would have gone if there were no British government to constantly hold it back.
While I do not intend to take away the perceived merits of a passé government, I would not be lenient with its parasitic properties. Just how parasitic was it? One can ask India and the American Revolutionaries.
EHI
#1 "Under British rule, Hong Kong was transformed into one of the freest world economies and an international finance centre, outpacing economic development in Chinese cities."
That typical and unimaginative statement sounds nice but it cannot be further from the truth no matter how some media channels would like to push the public to believe. Hong Kong was plagued by widespread corruption brought on by the British government until the ICAC was founded in 1974, this event coincided with Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in mainland China. Three years later in 1977, a desperate Margaret Thatcher visited China for the first time and then for a second time in 1982, the year it was determined that Hong Kong was to be returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. While this move had caused a considerable amount of worries in the capitalist city despite unfounded speculations, Hong Kong grew leaps and bounds with mainland China and its Asian neighbors nonetheless. Hong Kong businesses were among the first to enter the mainland China market, when a fast-growing mainland China had fueled unprecedented development in Hong Kong in the past few decades. Thus, it is not surprising for Beijing to be displeased by certain groups and political affiliations that are bent on disrupting the growth and stability of Hong Kong.
andreaswagner
You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts:)
newgalileo
A warning to Hong Kong, maybe. Let's first see what the FTZ will really bring as benefits.

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