Dying in a pit of its own making, the West’s problems far outweigh ours in Hong Kong

Niall Fraser, fresh from a sojourn traversing the length of Britain, predicts the country’s constitutional monarchy will collapse before Hong Kong ceases to be a special administrative region, as the US-led West slowly sinks beneath the waves it used to rule

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 6:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 6:49pm

First of all, it is good to be back in Hong Kong and journalistic circulation after an enforced and extended trip to Britain on family business. It is of course entirely possible – in fact probable – that only I and my long-suffering editor even noticed I was gone and feel any sense of relief at my return.

Thankfully, I still have a column, although this could be the last as I struggle with the combined effects of jet lag and several weeks in which the best shut-eye I had almost killed me as I nodded off behind the wheel of the hire car in which I covered more than 2,500 miles (4,023km) of United Kingdom roads between London and Inverness and all points in between.

The words “United Kingdom” I use advisedly because the wet and windswept collection of islands floating off the northwest coast of continental Europe is anything but united. As the pointless, parasitic House of Windsor clings on to the fantasy of empire, I give the royal family at most 15 years before they cash in their chips, get the butler to pack their bags and sail off into the night, much like Hong Kong’s last colonial overlord, Chris Patten, did with the ever-more cartoonish heir to Britain’s throne, Prince Charles, when they boarded the Royal Yacht Britannia at midnight on July 1, 1997.

Mark my words – with a promise that you can throw them back at me and more when I am proved wrong – but I predict Britain will cease to be a constitutional monarchy before the 50 years of special administrative grace Hong Kong and Macau have is up. I have no idea what political format it will become, but crowns, wigs and curious trousers have definitely had their day.

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If it isn’t already, the British royal family is at best a long-running, expensive comedy sitcom, and at worst a cankerous shower of dangerously rich and self-serving never-have-beens – a deliberate distraction from the realisation that the rot set in long before all the Brexit ballyhoo.

What has all this got to do with Hong Kong, you are probably thinking. Quite a lot, actually.

The best thing about taking a break from the place you spend most of your busy life – and this is especially true of hothouse, pressure-cooker Hong Kong – is the sense of perspective you get while thousands of miles away. Sure, it wears off as the daily grind pulls you back into the myopic machine, but it is valuable nonetheless.

The overriding hunch I get each time I travel overseas is that Hong Kong ain’t as bad as we all think it is.

Okay, okay, the following gut feeling is never going to win any awards for exactitude in political and economic theory and practice, but this is an opinion column, not a road map for future success.

Hong Kong has many serious issues to deal with and no doubt more pain to come in the shape of an increasingly authoritarian mothership with an in-built and arguably understandable distrust and suspicion about what goes on here, thanks to a history too long to get into here.

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But if you think we have problems, take a look at Britain and the United States-led West. The whole operation looks badly holed below the water line and appears to be slowly sinking beneath the waves they used to rule, and all the people in charge can come up with is a natty new arrangement of deck chairs.

While back in the great city of Glasgow, Scotland, the other week – a place I believe packs history, humour, personality and grit in large enough amounts that it could stop New York in the first round of a prize fight to become top city dog – I walked into a pub called The Iron Horse in West Nile Street, just down from the city’s storied Sauchiehall Street.

It was a regular haunt of mine many, many moons ago. The only drinkers inside on a wet, cold and windy Wednesday night were five middle-aged Chinese men, in full-flight, in-your-face Cantonese discussion. Every single one was from Hong Kong, and they had made their lives in faraway Glasgow, mostly, as you would expect, in the restaurant trade.

As soon as I attempted my pidgin Cantonese, I was one of them, and we drank the night away, swapping yarns about Hong Kong and Glasgow. They were pioneers, one and all.

A fractured world mired in uncertainty needs these hard-working, outgoing men – and women – like never before, and our city needs to make sure their kind does not go the same way as the empire Britain built over hundreds of years, which is now dying in a pit of its own making.