Why Hong Kong will be following the Shenzhen model by 2037
Peter Kammerer says popular stereotypes about life across the border are not valid and, despite issues like state censorship, the signs point to the more efficient mainland model leading life in Hong Kong in 20 years’ time
Predicting what Hong Kong would be like 20 years after returning to Chinese sovereignty was tricky in 1997. Mainland China’s economy was on the march and pundits held a diverse range of opinions. The widely held view was that our city was the model Beijing wanted to emulate, so what we had would largely remain and the mainland would become more like us. We now know better.
I believe that, come 2037, our political system will be more like the mainland’s and that Shenzhen will be our model for everyday life. Gone will be the logjams created by self-centred lawmakers, replaced by a legislative process where all are working for the good of our city, the region and the nation. Vested interests will no longer be allowed to dictate for personal gain, the way our big businesses, and sometimes government entities, now do. There will still be one country and two systems, although the differences will be less obvious.
Yes, I am apolitical – some would contend politically naive. I know that no government is perfect and, no matter how good its policies, there will always be objectors. But it is obvious that our government is not functioning as it should, while Beijing is making great improvements for its people. As their wealth and circumstances improve, ours seem to be either stagnating or looking bleak.
Hongkongers are too often immature on mainland matters. Many still have a giant chip on their shoulder, contending that their city and the way they think is superior – much of it ingrained prejudice based more on hearsay than experience. The result is that, while we dilly-dally with adopting digital payment systems, fight against Uber-type taxi services and pussyfoot with waste disposal, on the mainland, they get on with it.
I’ve made a dozen mainland trips in recent years, as much out of curiosity as for relaxation. The stereotypes held by many Hongkongers are not valid. Mainlanders are not backward in their thinking, nor rude. Rather, it is often Hongkongers who stand out in the crowd, their arrogance on full display along with their loud voices.
Perceptions about the basics of mainland life largely do not hold true. Food is often fresher, because there, it is closer to the same source as that of most of what we buy in our shops. The hot spring resort pools are not awash with urine and thieves do not lurk on every corner. I apply the same rules there as when I’m in a place I’m unfamiliar with; be careful.
Obviously, all is not perfect. The government censorship of the internet and foreign media is stifling for someone merely seeking information, let alone wanting to do overseas business or be entertained. There is an understanding about being non-political and watching what is said or read. Toilets in public places can be a nightmare. The clouds of cigarette smoke can be noxious. There is not the same attention to maintenance as in Hong Kong.
These are anecdotal observations; they, media access and my almost three decades as a Hongkonger, are all I have for my crystal ball-gazing into our city’s future. I am not like many of the economic and political analysts pre-1997, who relied on scant public information or the views of “a source wanting to remain anonymous” for their opinions. And if there are any doubts, simply listen to leaders like Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Dejiang ( 張德江 ), who last month said all in our government must be “patriots who respect the Chinese people, sincerely support resumption of sovereignty and pose no threat to prosperity and stability”. Those are not the words of someone who wants the mainland to be more like Hong Kong; quite the reverse.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post