Being the richest mainland city would be nice

The arrogant isolationism of many people worked against Hong Kong as Shenzhen turned into a hi-tech hub, and we must strive for a viable future

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 7:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 10:20pm

In a rapidly changing world, just a few years is a long time, let alone 50 years.

The constitutional guarantee of no changes to Hong Kong’s social, political and economic systems for 50 years after the 1997 handover might have helped preserve confidence for Hong Kong people during the first decade; it will be a hindrance to the city’s growth and development in the four decades that come after.

History, geography, economics and common sense have already conspired to make that guarantee obsolescent in the 21st century. Hong Kong, of course, can insist on it; it will just be left behind.

An obvious example: When Tung Chee-hwa first became chief executive, he said he would turn the city into a tech hub. Today, we are still talking about that in aspirational terms, while Shenzhen, home to the headquarters of Tencent, Huawei, ZTE, BYD and BGI and many more, has become China’s tech hub in the past 20 years.

The gross domestic product of the former backwater district hit US$342 billion in 2017, compared to the US$339 billion of Hong Kong.

If you are a young hi-tech professional, working across the border is the natural choice, from IT and bio-tech to automation, social media and gaming.

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Sadly, the arrogant isolationism of many Hong Kong people has worked against it. Now, some even want independence. It’s unlikely we will get off this self-destructive mode any time soon.

I leave it to independent accountants and business groups to decide whether the HK$84.4 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link will ever be profitable. And yes, its delays and cost overruns have been a disgrace. But there is no doubt the service itself will be popular with cross-border travellers and help provide much needed integration with the mainland.

Sadly, that’s not what we fret about. Instead, it’s the joint border checkpoint arrangement that, if its critics can exaggerate any further, would turn the mainland-controlled area of the West Kowloon terminus into a direct gateway to China’s gulag.

In reality, people are not really worried about that; they are travelling to the mainland anyway. It’s just rationalisation.

Our real fear and loathing is that infrastructure such as the express rail link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge will draw the city ever closer into the mainland’s embrace.

But that is our only possible and viable future – to become “just another mainland city”, though preferably, its richest one.