In recent weeks, there has been a lot of celebrating, but not in Hong Kong. In November, mainland China and Taiwan finally established the 'three links' - direct transport, mail and trade. In December, China celebrated 30 years of reform. On January 1, Washington and Beijing celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Where does all this leave Hong Kong? Holding the bag, it seems, or perhaps the begging bowl. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen went to Beijing to explain that direct flights have left Hong Kong in the lurch as tens of thousands of Taiwanese travellers no longer stop here. To help out Hong Kong, he asked for more mainland tourists, more yuan business and more measures to help its businesses on the mainland weather the financial crisis. Beijing announced it would take 14 steps to help Hong Kong stabilise its financial market and develop its economy. The growing impression is that, since 2003 when severe acute respiratory syndrome struck, Hong Kong has had to go to Beijing, cap in hand, seeking handouts. Before 1997, Hong Kong people held their heads high, confident in their ability to fend for themselves, come what may. Now, it seems, they have to go running to the central government for help all the time. China agreed, in the Joint Declaration it signed with Britain, to leave the British colony unchanged for 50 years, to a large extent because China benefited from Hong Kong. Has that situation changed? Is Hong Kong no longer of value? Has it become a burden to the mainland? Many people point to the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement as an example of Beijing helping out Hong Kong. But Cepa is not a handout; it is a free-trade agreement. Hong Kong has always been a free port, and mainland goods could enter without paying duties. Hong Kong goods, on the other hand, had to pay a levy to enter the mainland. Cepa levelled that playing field. This should not be presented as a 'privilege' for Hong Kong. It is true that the mainland has helped Hong Kong by allowing large numbers of tourists to come here. This was - and continues to be - a big boost to the economy. But the mainland benefited for decades from Hong Kong visitors, who spent freely while sightseeing. Again, it was a case of the mainland catching up with Hong Kong. Historically, Hong Kong was of great value to the mainland and provided whatever it needed. When China was isolated and subject to an embargo, Hong Kong was its window on the world and an invaluable channel for goods and information. After the mainland opened its doors, Hong Kong companies were the first to enter. When direct investments were allowed, again Hong Kong businesses were at the forefront. And when mainland companies needed to raise capital, Hong Kong offered its stock exchange. Today, more than 300 mainland firms are listed here. At every phase of the mainland's development, Hong Kong has been on hand to help. Today, Hong Kong is the mainland's third-largest trading partner, after the US and Japan, and its largest source of direct investment. It is true that what Hong Kong provides to the mainland today has changed from what it was in the past. But the value is still there, as strong as ever. Shortly after the handover in 1997, Henry Fok Ying-tung, considered a 'patriotic businessman' by Beijing, gave a speech in which he said: 'We know how greatly inland China supports Hong Kong, but Hong Kong is also of great value to inland China.' Chinese leaders acknowledge this freely, most recently last month when President Hu Jintao - in a speech marking 30 years of economic reform - praised Hong Kong for its contribution to the development of the mainland. Hong Kong people have no reason to feel ashamed, but every reason to hold their heads high. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.