Philip Bowring
Philip Bowring
Philip Bowring has been based in Asia for 39 years writing on regional financial and political issues. He has been a columnist for the South China Morning Post since the mid-1990s and for the International Herald Tribune from 1992 to 2011. He also contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, www.asiasentinel.com, a website of which he is a founder, and elsewhere. Prior to 1992 he was with the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review, latterly as editor.

Foreigners played a major role in forging modern Hong Kong, but with the emphasis now on integration with the mainland and a steady exodus of long-time residents, the city’s cosmopolitan character is now in question.

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A history of the Chinese Communist Party should include the contributions of non-Chinese and acknowledge party critics, as well as celebrating the heroes through uplifting stories.

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For a start, ‘Asia’ as a region is home to such diverse peoples it can only be an imprecise concept. In many countries with multi-ethnic populations such as the US, Australia and Britain, language has not caught up with the reality of mixtures.

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From avoiding getting a vaccine to halting vaccination drives, people and governments who claim to be following the science are jumping to conclusions despite a clear lack of evidence.

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The interim exhibit at the museum gives much space to the culture of “indigenous people”, although after 1841 Hong Kong was populated largely by immigrants. It also lacks a sense of how Hong Kong came to be a major commercial and maritime centre.

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Hong Kong officials’ obsession with reducing case numbers to zero means they have paid scant regard to society’s broader interests. There is no denying the global scale of the pandemic but, unless kept in perspective, the cure may be worse than the disease.

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Britain could have painlessly left with deals like Norway’s and Switzerland’s, but the arrogance of its political class let fantasies flourish long after the referendum and set a high price for blinkered English nationalism.

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Beijing’s call for Hong Kong to review its legal system to ensure loyalty to the party, country and people – in that order – is surely less critical than the challenge of ensuring it serves society’s most vulnerable, including the city’s many foreign domestic workers.

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The Communist Party’s version of nationalism precludes differences of opinion on official policies in Xinjiang and the South China Sea. History, however, shows that doctrines and heroes of one period are denounced and discarded by the next.

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There has been scant debate in Hong Kong, where pneumonia claimed around 9,000 lives in 2019, about Covid-19 in the context of broader health and social interests. Apart from Sweden’s ‘light-touch’ policy, there are also lessons to be learnt from Bangladesh and Brazil.

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In the US, the language concerning racial issues seems to be stuck in the days of slavery and segregation. Then, as now, people who were not seen as entirely ‘white’ were generally deemed ‘black’, rather than mixed race.

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While billions are being pumped into Covid-19 vaccine research, diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria continue to have high mortality rates. Perhaps, Covid-19 is attracting attention because it largely affects old people in rich countries.

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The protests after the death of George Floyd in the US rightly raised attention to the high rate of police killings of blacks compared to whites. The copycat protests elsewhere, however, require greater attention to the specific historical context.

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Even without Covid-19, there is no shortage of disturbing news, from the Hong Kong police’s crackdown on protesters to Chinese bullying in the South China Sea. But a German court’s challenge to a central tenet of European unity is perhaps the biggest worry

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The divergences in testing targets, reliability and reporting across countries mean the data is often misleading. Meanwhile, the poor suffer disproportionately during lockdowns and their living conditions make them vulnerable to the disease.

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Rich communities can fund collapsing businesses for a while. But can the developing world really enforce coronavirus lockdowns? A balance should be struck between the threat of one disease and the social cost of measures against it.

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Hong Kong should be alive to the coronavirus threat to globalisation, yet unlike in Singapore, another international city dependent on free trade, the government has shown no leadership, leaving medical workers to strike for better protection and domestic workers open to further abuse.

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The assassination of Iran’s Soleimani was carried out in Iraq against the wishes of the Iraqi government. For sure Iran has been interfering in Iraq, but no more than the US. The US is out of control, and must return to established norms.

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Hong Kong’s crisis is rooted in Beijing’s determination to assert central authority, to the chagrin of its peripheries. Ironically, the nationalism that stokes such urges threatens unity, in China and around the world.

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The leaders of Britain’s two major parties both see little use for the European Union because they are stuck in the past. Likewise, India’s leaders reject diversity and broader trade to indulge Hindu nationalist fantasies about the past.

When police mutinied in 1977 against an ICAC probe into corruption within the force, the governor of the time backed down, quickly ending a profound crisis. Carrie Lam’s policy address was perhaps the last chance for her to apply similar political solutions to the current crisis. Unfortunately, she completely missed the mark.

Hong Kong’s chief executive should sack half of her Exco to bring in change-makers, raise the possibility of widening voting rights, and start hacking away at policies that entrench the elite.

Protesters in Hong Kong made a strategic mistake when they vandalised the liaison office. But over in London and Beijing, the authorities are labouring under dangerous delusions about their power.

The Hong Kong chief executive, who has stressed her Catholic faith and has a long record of being an honest civil servant, has betrayed the expectations of Hongkongers by doing the bidding of Beijing.

The US’ escalating rhetoric and moves against Iran have raised fears of American military action. However, the main beneficiaries of a weakened Iran are its adversaries in the region.

Now that jail time has been ordered for the protest leaders, on the dubious grounds that they inconvenienced the public, it is clear that the courts are no bulwark against Beijing’s determination to block democratic progress.

The government’s inability to tackle our transport problems, from road congestion and illegally parked cars to the protectionist taxi trade and haphazard system of tunnel tolls, comes down to this: the upper classes, including senior bureaucrats, love their cars.

Years of huge surpluses have allowed government incompetence to continue unchecked, wasting money on needless capital investment. With budget season coming around again, here are four measures to improve this year’s plan.

The Huawei arrest is a wasted opportunity for China. It could have used the case to ally with countries that resent the US’ Iran sanctions. Instead, the way it is going after Canada smacks of thuggery and nationalism.

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