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Hong Kong economy

Shenzhen, Singapore … Guiyang? Who else can Hong Kong fall behind?

Michael Chugani says the financial secretary invoking the little-known capital of Guizhou province as an example to follow was the final insult to Hong Kong’s prowess as an innovator, as well as a wake-up call

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 7:12pm

If you can’t stomach the fact it’s already game over for Hong Kong, take out a map of China and find Guiyang. Guiyang? I, too, had never heard of it until last Sunday when Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po told Hongkongers that the once-obscure mainland city can teach us a lesson or two about innovation.

Now that’s a stinging reality slap. I can swallow learning from Silicon Valley, Singapore, maybe even Shenzhen. But Guiyang? Have we sunk so low we must learn from upstarts?

Surely, the very name of Hong Kong still rings proud and loud around the world. Surely, our rule of law, independent judiciary, democratic freedoms and standard of English make us a role model for our rivals.

If you still believe that, you must be Rip Van Winkle and have just woken up. Rub the sleep from your eyes. We’re no longer the Hong Kong our regional rivals once envied. We’re a dying city slumped on the sidelines as others race past us with mocking grins.

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But let’s not mourn just yet. We still know how to create, as our tycoon developers keep on proving. They find ever more creative ways to shrink flats to the size of monkey cages yet sell them for the price of a palace. Buyers are still rushing to buy them, creating a market that defies the logic that what goes up must come down.

Our developers are so innovative they gamed the system to make Cyberport, meant to be Hong Kong’s hub of hi-tech creativity, into a luxury residential area instead. Cyberport opened in 2007 when Guiyang was a rural backwater. But now we are told to play catch-up.

On the same day Chan went gaga over Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung blogged about visiting Shenzhen as a junior official in the 1980s, when it too was a rural backwater with spotty electricity. In his words, it’s now become the country’s “innovation stronghold”.

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What made Shenzhen, not Hong Kong, the country’s pride? Surely, our international status, financial know-how and trillions in reserves should have made us a shoo-in as China’s innovation crown jewel. Who should we blame for being humiliated by the likes of Shenzhen, Shanghai and, yes, even Guiyang, which have none of the attributes we boast about?

Blame ourselves. We’re killing ourselves just like we killed the Lion Rock spirit that had put Hong Kong on top of its game. What we have is a failure of government. Chan sang the praises of Guiyang because, in his own words, provincial leaders realised the potential of big data. Well, we realised it back in 2007. Isn’t that why we built Cyberport? So why are Chan and Cheung now saying we must mimic Guiyang and Shenzhen?

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Blame too our dysfunctional society. We’re very innovative in occupying streets, rioting, hurling bricks at police officers and snatching mobile phones from young women to pry into their secrets in men’s toilets.

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We’re also very creative in inventing trumped-up reasons to disqualify election candidates our Beijing masters don’t like. Surely, it’s creativity at its Orwellian best to say we have freedom of thought but must love the country or else.

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We were on top of our game before. We can be again. But we must let Hong Kong be Hong Kong. We are part of China but our history makes us different. That’s why people from Shenzhen, Shanghai, and even Guiyang trust our infant formula, pitch tents on our beaches and use our vaccines against cervical cancer.

The Lion Rock spirit flourished when there was no talk of independence, no iron hand from Beijing, no demand to love the country and no banana hurling in the Legislative Council. Those who governed us knew what the people wanted and got on with it. Deng Xiaoping used us as a model for Shenzhen. Those glory days need not be dead. But only we alone can bring them back.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host