SCMP, January 17, 2003 Two decades ago, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher met China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to decide the fate of Hong Kong, the skyline of Shenzhen was non-existent and Guangzhou was a sleepy provincial city. Today's industrial zones up and down the Pearl River Delta (PRD) were little more than fishing villages. Enterprising businesspeople from Hong Kong found themselves explaining that foreigners required garments in different sizes and that fashions changed drastically each season. It was perhaps natural for them to be a bit patronising, while their Guangdong counterparts adopted the manner of eager students. No longer. Today, the PRD produces more than one third of China's exports, and has maintained average annual growth of nearly 17 per cent since 1980. Hong Kong investment has been one of the great drivers of the delta's growth, and the profits flowing from Hong Kong-owned factories across the border are a big reason why Hong Kong companies are doing well even if the SAR economy is not. Now it is Guangzhou's turn for condescension, as Hong Kong's growth sputters and its policymakers preach economic integration while dithering over the means to achieve it. A hint of the psychological dynamics between the two came yesterday when Guangzhou Communist Party Secretary Lin Shusen chastised Hong Kong for assuming it could set priorities for the delta. Unfortunately for Hong Kong, Mr Lin was right. As most Hong Kong businesspeople know, Hong Kong now clearly needs the delta more than the delta needs it. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's policy address pointed in the right direction, but the realisation of his ambitions should not be taken as a given. To be sure, it would be in Hong Kong's interest to create the infrastructure for economic union with Guangdong tomorrow. But Hong Kong's pockets are not as deep as they once were, and the world's financial markets are less hungry for massive building projects than they were in the 1990s. Moreover, there is a lot of work left to do in basic human interaction between the two sides. For one thing, the people of Hong Kong need to gain the language skills to work easily with their mainland counterparts and to become students of the evolving business, legal, and political systems on the mainland. There are hopeful signs, such as the Putonghua contest recently staged by Legco. Nobody failed the test, although some legislators stumbled. But no matter how entertaining such events may be, they are small steps when much bigger ones are required. If talk of economic integration remains just that, Hong Kong could become an insignificant rather than a central player in one of the world's most dynamic regions. Glossary paramount (adj) of the greatest importance Example: Bratz dolls have gone on sale with one notable absentee - Sasha, the black doll. [The local distributor reportedly said they could not market black dolls in Hong Kong. However,] the US-based manufacturer, MGA Entertainment, was shocked at the explanation, saying the dolls' 'multi-ethnicity, multi-cultural quality' was paramount to the brand. (SCMP, January 12, 2003) patronising (adj) acting in a superior manner towards others condescension (n) having the attitude that you are beter than others dither (v) to be uncertain and indecisive. Dithering is the adjective. Example: Vera Wang has realised the dreams of many a dithering young bride who wants to look perfect on her wedding day, but is not quite sure how to go about it. (SCMP, December 11, 2002) chastise (v) to scold severely given (n) something taken for granted. Note it is not the past participle of 'give' in the context of today's article. How do we know? There is the article 'a' in front of given. stumble (v) to make frequent mistakes in speech Discussion points - Can you point out the Pearl River Delta region on a map? - Would you like to work in the PRD, the acronym for the region? If yes, in what industry? If no, why not? - How much do you know about the PRD? For example, can you name some cities or counties in the PRD? (See below for examples) What dialects do the people speak in those cities and counties? What industries would you find there? What is the consumer market like? The PRD region includes Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Jiangmen, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Huizhou city, Huiyang county, Huidong county, Poluo county, Zhaoqing city, Gaoyao and Sihui.