Hong Kong protests are a call for a rethink of its foundational laissez-faire economic model and immigration policy
- The market-driven model is unsuited to a world characterised by income inequality, pressure on the middle class, immigration crises and technological disruption
- Hong Kong, whose fortunes ebbed and flowed with mainland China, must revisit how it can make this relationship work in the new era
Hong Kong has been gripped by political violence for months. We must realise that we cannot take civil society for granted, nor ignore its fragility in a fractious time. Instead of simply chanting political slogans, we need intellectual courage and objectivity to secure a better future.
In the post-war period, the Hong Kong government adopted a light-handed approach to public policy, with new migrants and sojourners rarely demanding public assistance or services. This same neoliberalism was credited with the post-war economic miracle.
The laissez-faire approach to governance continued after Hong Kong’s handover in 1997. The “one country, two systems” formula reflected an appreciation of neoliberalism while Hong Kong’s common law system has remained attractive for international trade and commerce.
Hong Kong has remained insulated from China’s political structure, while maintaining a permeable border. Organised labour has reacted with hostility to these labour inflows – an alien concept throughout most of Hong Kong’s history. Most Hong Kong inhabitants were sojourners before World War II and, since then, most have been first- or second-generation immigrants from the mainland. The current anti-China protests are a result of this relatively recent anxiety.
The solution to Hong Kong’s future lies in connecting Western neoliberalism and mainland China’s state capitalism. Hong Kong’s political elite must put aside their differences and play a constructive role in helping to preserve Hong Kong’s unique position beyond 2047.
M echanisms and institutions for communication with the central government need to be introduced, helping effectively address the interrelated social issues affecting Hong Kong.
The influx of labour, public housing shortages, health care, education and career mobility must be brought to the forefront of the legislative agenda. Rather than finger pointing and political posturing, parties from across the aisle must develop actionable plans. We must welcome young political talent, reflecting the fullest range of political orientations.
Hong Kong must set out on a new voyage. As Shakespeare says in Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Jing Lee is a Hong Kong-based investment banker and lawyer. She has held senior management positions with various global financial groups, and has over 30 years’ experience of financial-market-related matters in the Asia-Pacific region