Since Aesop’s day, the sage warning “Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it” has been endlessly repeated, and often gone often unheeded. The more that the “Hong Kong is part of China” line was trumpeted by local authority figures, the more inevitable it became that the rest of the world would take them at their word. Hong Kong’s comparative advantage – for several decades – was that the territory was in China, yet not entirely of it; this wobbly differentiation made the whole “one country, two systems” high-wire balancing act extremely precarious. Only a few small missteps separated a successful performance and rounds of applause from a potentially devastating plummet into the nets below. “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes” is another saying that resonates; those who campaigned for American economic sanctions and those who insisted that Hong Kong and China were essentially the same place both reached the same destination by different avenues. But what happens next? For several decades, the “Made in Hong Kong” label signified internationally recognised quality and reliability. But it wasn’t always that way. From the late 19th century, as Hong Kong’s manufacturing capacity expanded, “Made in Hong Kong” began to appear on locally produced or processed foodstuffs, such as preserved ginger or soybean products, and other consumer goods. In the 1920s, the colony was able to leverage tariff preferences for items produced from other British Empire materials: crepe rubber from Malaya and canvas cloth from Canada, manufactured into plimsolls in Hong Kong for re-export to Nigeria – to cite one example – both fell into this category. Until the Communist assumption of power in the mainland, in 1949, little international differentiation was made between Made in Hong Kong and Made in China; no border control existed until 1950. Following the United Nations embargo on direct China trade in 1950, mandated as a result of the Korean war, various allowances were made by the United States in favour of Hong Kong-manufactured goods. These trade privileges helped power the colony’s post-war industrial boom; everything from plastic flowers to garments and transistor radios was either made here, or assembled from imported components. Certificates of Origin were required, to prove that only “free world” labour had been used, and that there were no “Red China” components lurking within. In the interwar years, when Japan was the workshop of the world – much as China has been in recent decades – “Made in Japan” was not a particularly proud boast. Some Japanese manufactures were of world-class quality – particularly precision materials, and items with military or strategic interoperability, as the early Japanese successes in the Pacific war demonstrated. But on the whole, “Made in Japan” signified, in the world’s mind, cheap-and-cheerful consumer goods from which nobody expected much, such as unreliably dyed cloth, gimcrack toys and cheap crockery. At a time when consumer goods were expected to last, Japanese goods were mostly purchased by those who couldn’t afford anything better. Everything was at least serviceable, basic items could be mended, and parts substituted, which made Japanese goods acceptable. In this respect, for much of the world, a direct parallel exists with a wide assortment of China-manufactured items. Except for foodstuffs. “Made in Hong Kong” remains the internationally accepted gold standard for Chinese ingredients. After various scandals – soy sauce made from human hair, and long-dead pigs transformed into cans of luncheon meat, to cite two well-documented, utterly repulsive examples – no amount of “lost-face-hurt-feelings” Wolf Warrior-style Panda-tantrums can force the world’s consumers to believe that certain China-produced food items are safe. Trust cannot be mandated – it must be earned first by credible example; and in that regard, “Made in Hong Kong” led the way for decades.