By Koo Lap
Typhoon Nangka struck Hainan Island 420 kilometers southwest of Hong Kong. Mild wind, calm waves, and even very little rain. The Observatory that prides itself in the motto “Innovate with Science, Serve with Heart”, has hoised the Typhoon Number 8 signal since early morning and announced that it would not be taken down until 6 p.m.; this has been the furthest typhoon that has closed all markets, including stocks, and schools in Hong Kong since 1967. In terms of the ability to withstand typhoons, Hong Kong is far from what it was in 1967. Without being affected by the weather, a fully digitally-operated global financial center suddenly snoozed for a day, how “innovative”. No wonder some speculate that the Observatory had “intentionally” did this.
The biggest “intention” is undoubted that Xi Jinping has traveled south to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Shenzhen’s establishment as a Special Economic Zone (S.E.Z.). When 7.5 million people have to close the market, suspend classes, and stay at home, one must follow the instructions properly. The second-biggest “intention” is to get 777, who had only just ordered the Policy Address to be halted in the very last minute, to spare time to attend to Xi His Majesty. If the Observatory really did go through these layers of political calculations, it would be self-evident just how much “a high degree of autonomy” remains in Hong Kong. Following the collapse of the civil service system, education, police force, and all other areas in which Hongkongers had once taken pride, if the Observatory is also tasked with political missions, the soft power inherited from the British-Hong Kong will soon be completely eviscerated.
Even if the Observatory has not yet fallen, it is reported that Hong Kong’s economic output value has already fallen behind Shenzhen way back in 2018. However, Deng Xiaoping did not just develop one S.E.Z in 1980 in Shenzhen. Do not forget those windows looking outward in Shantou, Zhuhai, and Xiamen. 40 years later, have those other three sparkled as brilliantly as Shenzhen? Nope. Other than Shenzhen, all the other special zones failed, and the reason for that is clear as crystal: Neighboring Hong Kong, Shenzhen has benefited from the spillover of Hong Kong’s freedom, openness, and internationality. In other words, taking freedom and openness away from Hong Kong is only going to turn Shenzhen back to the pumpkin in the likes of Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen. Whether Shenzhen can continue its 40 years of prosperity depends on whether Hong Kong is still able to utilize the remaining leftover soft power from British-Hong Kong, to remain free and open. After the enactment of the national security law, even a three-year-old child could give you a straight answer to that.
Before Xi Jinping’s trip to the south, the State Council issued the “Implementation Plan for the Pilot Comprehensive Reform of Building a Pilot Demonstration Zone of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in Shenzhen (2020-2025)”, a seeming act to further open up the market, develop finance and tech, “promote higher-level Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation, and strengthen the core engine in the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Function”. Such a splendid idea is but an ancient concept wrapped under fresh covers. Before ascending the throne in 2010, Xi Jinping had already personally directed Shenzhen to develop its reclaimed Qianhai District as the special zone within this S.E.Z. He proclaimed that the common law would be adopted such that the city would be able to compete with Hong Kong’s role as an international financial center.
Ten years on, Hong Kong is still being chosen by mainland enterprises to raise funds, and the preference as the center for overseas Renminbi settlement. Except for all the high-rises, there seems to be minimal international financial activity in Qianhai. What else? Blocked information, prohibited speeches…how is it to become an international financial center?
Although Deng Xiaoping was an advocate for freedom and openness leading to true development, Xi Jinping seems to be striving for true self-isolation from the world. In Chaozhou, Xi pointed out that “China is experiencing unprecedented major changes, and must take the path of self-reliance, to rely on self through ‘self-innovation’”. The so-called “unprecedented changes” are none other than the almost unanimous hostility towards the outbreak of the Wuhan virus, the mainland for its suppression of Hong Kong by countries like the E.U, the U.S., Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc., and especially the wolf warrior-incepted Xi Jinping. International polls conducted by the Pew Research Center shows at least 70% of the world is uneasy about Xi Jinping’s approach to diplomacy; such overwhelming emotions are truly unprecedented. One recalls how at the beginning of the reform and opening up, the world was brimming with friendly expectations for China, which compared to today’s landslide hatred, a total 180. Facing isolation and sanctions from all fronts, Xi Jinping still uttered the words “self-reliance”. If so, how would Hong Kong, let alone Shenzhen, foresee an optimistic future?
For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the mantra of “self-reliance” has a special meaning. In the 1940s under the siege of the Kuomintang and hiding in Yan’an cave dwellings, the CCP was facing the looming misfortunes of “not full enough, not warm enough, and the lacking daily necessities” as described by Mao Zedong. It had no choice but to “fully rely on self to self-suffice” in order to survive.
In 1956, when China and the Soviet Union turned against each other, Mao Zedong pulled an Ah-Q still and demanded “self-reliance as mainstay, and foreign aid as the supplement”. In 1962, after the Great Leap Forward staved 40 to 50 million people to death, he pushed another slogan “strive to be strong, rely on self” as a last attempt for the party to survive. From here we see how the notion of “self-reliance” sounds truly heroic, but is a real cry for desperation.
Discarding freedom and openness, a bright and promising path paved by Deng Xiaoping, and proclaiming the “innovative” “self-reliance”, is Xi Jinping yearning to return to that dark cave in the Shanxi-Gansu-Ningxia border?
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