Why Hong Kong must not let politics alter its DNA
Liu Jun says the city must adhere to the political neutrality that has served it so well – and this means upholding market principles and the rule of law while ensuring we work to improve people’s lives
There is one concept which Hong Kong can rely on for success and continued prosperity. What is the magic phrase? Political neutrality (政治中性). The original Chinese expression might be more precise than this literal English translation. For the sake of convenience, let’s stick with “political neutrality”, but the difference must first be addressed properly.
To begin with, “neutrality” is not the state of being in the centre. In politics, it has nothing to do with being on the left, right or in the centre (中间派). There is not even the tiniest connection to the policies that centrist parties advocate or their political stance, although nowadays the lines between right, left and centre have become blurred.
Secondly, neutrality does not refer to the neutral position (政治中立) in wars or geopolitical disputes. Therefore, the often-mentioned role models are not relevant to the Hong Kong story.
Lastly, neutrality is not a synonym for apolitical (非政治化). Apathy and indifference towards politics are not the attitude Hong Kong people should adopt. Even average constituents of society have been encouraged to be a part of Hong Kong’s continuous progress.
So, what is the essence of political neutrality and how does it define Hong Kong’s recipe of success? We should look at it from three perspectives.
Firstly, Hong Kong people attach great significance to market mechanisms and market principles in political, economic and social interactions. The pivotal driver of Hong Kong’s economic miracle is indisputably market forces. Firmly sticking to a market economy has resulted in splendid accomplishments, such as becoming an international financial, trade and shipping centre.
Accordingly, Hong Kong is always ranked among the top in terms of competitiveness, innovation and business environment, as well as in university league tables. Traditionally, as a transit port and bridge between mainland China and the rest of the world, Hong Kong has done well. In the future, its role as a super connector in the same geopolitical and economic context will surely strengthen its market orientation.
However, misguided public fervour about certain political issues among a significant portion of society is proving alarming. As a result, entrepreneurship is waning, business logic has taken a hit and productivity has been disrupted. We can see the consequences in recent years. The price of turning Hong Kong into a political hub would be unimaginable.
Secondly, the rule of law has been the fundamental construct in building Hong Kong. In the economic sense, it is recognised worldwide that honouring contracts and abiding by market rules are key to a robust performance. In the political arena, dispute settlement, conflict resolution and conciliation must all be rule-based. Having one’s voice heard on political agendas is a fair and understandable request, and a well-established mechanism is in place to ensure protocols are followed and citizens’ rights are protected. The various special administrative region laws, especially the Basic Law – the supreme law – must not be twisted or ignored to serve the self-interest of a few.
Law and order matters, as history shows, and not just in Hong Kong. Any ordinary citizen with some common sense can tell that Occupy Central was not rule-based, and neither was the Mong Kok riot. Having main streets blocked, business routines interrupted and witnessing radical behaviour seldom seen in Hong Kong; these are poles apart from the spirit that Hong Kong people have long nurtured and cherished. It is odd to see rules being ignored in an internationally recognised business environment. It is time to bring back the rule of law and order, and we must stick to this DNA of Hong Kong to return the city to its true self.
Thirdly, the ultimate goal of development is the well-being of Hong Kong people. Politics might play a certain role in the process, yet no action hindering or slowing efforts to improve social welfare and living standards in the guise of political reform or political participation should be tolerated. In this sense, the filibuster farces often played out in the Legislative Council go against the consensus of our common goals, and the negativity has unfortunately spilled over into the economic and social realms.
Of course, setting higher goals cannot guarantee immediate improvements in housing, pensions and salaries. Even in less-prosperous and less-expensive, middle-tier mainland cities, new graduates can only dream of being able to afford a decent apartment. Why are some Hong Kong youngsters so anxious to squeeze what should be a lifelong economic pursuit of home ownership into their first few years in a career? Enhanced well-being is closely linked to the stability and predictability that Hong Kong used to enjoy.
Political neutrality – or the Chinese concept 政治中性, to better convey its critical meaning – has been the most important ingredient of Hong Kong’s prosperity. It should and could work smoothly in the future.
Let’s end by quoting another Chinese idiom, 不逾矩,不从众: Never cross the line of rules, and never follow the herd. But, again, this might just be lost in translation.
Liu Jun is vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Chinese Enterprises Association