Hong Kong must stop living in the past
It’s true: we are like no other city on mainland China; instead, we are falling far behind places such as Shenzhen and Shanghai because of our fondness for the good old colonial days
It’s been axiomatic for many people here that Hong Kong must not become “just another Chinese city”. A Google search of the phrase, paired with “Hong Kong”, yields nearly 8,000 entries. It’s so often repeated that it has virtually become a mantra.
There is perhaps no greater example of the city’s ingrained arrogance, complacency and self-defeating refusal to make progress than this singular phrase. So many misconceptions and prejudices ride on it that the mentality it exemplifies goes a long way towards explaining why Hong Kong has progressed preciously little while the mainland has made leaps and bounds in the last 20 years.
●There is no such thing as “just another mainland city”. It’s like calling a mainland-looking person as “just another Chinese”. People who say that are likely to be those who never or rarely visit the rest of the country, instead relying on stereotypes or impressions about the mainland that are way past their use-by dates.
●Many first-tier cities such as Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Guangzhou far outstrip Hong Kong in entrepreneurship, productivity and civic vitality that it would be lucky for us to be just like any one of those places. Shenzhen, for example, is now a truly global tech hub with 40 per cent of its gross domestic product coming from hi-tech industries. Hong Kong is still talking about becoming a tech hub after 20 years.
●If every mainland city is just like any other, then Hong Kong must be truly exceptional. Maybe in 1997, the year it was returned to China, it was. It isn’t now, except for its endless obsessions with autonomy and independence. In the year of the handover, Hong Kong’s economy was equivalent to more than 18 per cent of the mainland’s. Today, it’s less than 3 per cent and falling. The mainland produced just six times the goods and services as Hong Kong in 1997. Today, it’s 30 times.
Those who fantasise about 50 years of no changes in our economic and political system are deluding themselves. In the 21st century of unpredictable and incomprehensible changes and turmoil, five years is an eternity, let alone 50.
Hong Kong can revitalise itself, but only when it learns to rethink and reinvent itself rather than looking to the past for its “core values”. And when it does, it will be nothing like the good old days of colonial Hong Kong, however you imagine it.