City Beat

Just like for super typhoon, Hong Kong has to be vigilant and prepared for any global disruption and change

Although Hong Kong has no say in its foreign affairs, it cannot ignore fact that Beijing occasionally reviews city’s role according to latest global situation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2018, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2018, 9:09pm

When Hong Kong claims to be “Asia’s world city”, it can refer to more than just the vibrant and diversified lifestyle here – at least for our policymakers.

With the China-US trade war dragging on, and no sign as to when and how it will end, last week’s summit between President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Vladivostok made international headlines.

It was suggested this meeting in the Russian Far East port city demonstrated the two countries’ goodwill in further developing the vast area neighbouring China in a mutually beneficial way.

Meanwhile, in a groundbreaking move, Chinese troops were invited to Russia’s five-day “Vostok 2018” war games, the biggest since 1981 when the Cold War cast a shadow over international relations.

The Pentagon said it was watching this massive military exercise “very closely”.

All this seems far away from us in this part of the world, and perhaps no one cares to note that the two leaders have so far met 25 times, on five occasions last year alone. So why bother?

Well, under the Basic Law, Beijing “shall be responsible for the foreign affairs” of Hong Kong and it grants the city a special status in certain aspects of its diplomatic strategic planning.

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The irony is, although Hong Kong has no say in its foreign affairs, it cannot ignore the fact that Beijing occasionally reviews the city’s role according to the latest global situation. This directly or indirectly affects local policymaking.

One immediate test case is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s coming policy address, which will be her second.

Public consultation started this month for Lam to compile her blueprint to be unveiled in October. The past weeks have seen her busy reaching out to different sectors for feedback on what should be her policy highlights.

At the same time she also has to consider factors closely intertwined with the international environment.

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There are two telling issues here: one is housing, which most would agree is what Lam herself described as “the priority of priorities”; the other, however, remains as controversial as it has always been – when and how to enact Article 23 legislation under the Basic Law to safeguard national security.

As far as housing goes, the lack of flour to bake enough bread is how Lam and many others see it. But is “flour”, or a guarantee of land supply, the ultimate cure?

The answer is more complicated than it looks. Taming the crazy property market also depends on the city’s population and immigration policies, investment incentives, interest rate changes directly linked with the US Federal Reserve’s decisions, capital flow from mainland China, and so on. No expert is needed to prove that.

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It means Hong Kong’s housing policy needs to look beyond the border. Even more so when it comes to the politically sensitive matter of national security legislation.

Lam’s administration apparently wants more time to create what it hopes will be a more “favourable” environment before wading into these troubled waters. Given all the conflicting views, it remains to be seen how Lam will address this contentious issue in her coming policy speech.

Will she talk about it or not mention it at all? What will be her next possible step?

Either way she has to walk a fine line in balancing Hongkongers’ concerns with Beijing’s growing anxiety to plug any possible national security loophole in the face of tougher global challenges amid an unstable China-US relationship.

China learns a very American lesson on the importance of ‘public diplomacy’

The hard truth is, with Beijing taking care of Hong Kong’s diplomacy, like it or not – apart from natural storms like the super typhoon that hit the city this weekend – we have to be vigilant and prepared for any global disruption and change.

The triangle of China-US-Russia relations is but one of the many global issues out there to be mindful of.