Thorns in the Bauhinia Foundation's flowery ideal

SCMP November 6 2008

Does Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen go out of his way to get meaningless 'advice' from friendly think-tanks and committees of assorted worthies which can be passed off as 'consultation'? Or does he believe that the platitudes served up are a meaningful contribution to policymaking in Hong Kong? Or is he using platitudes to hide a political purpose driven by non-Hong-Kong interests?

The Bauhinia Foundation is a charitable institution known to be close to Mr Tsang and with connections both to top bureaucrats and the worthies who sit on innumerable government panels. It has deep coffers, filled by anonymous donors.

The foundation recently published a massive report - 26 pages just in the English summary - titled 'Creating a World-Class Pearl River Delta Metropolis'. It sets out the path to a future for a region which would surpass the New York, Tokyo and Shanghai metropolises.

The basic assumption here is that the borders between Hong Kong and the rest of the Pearl River Delta are a hindrance and that everything must be done to bring down these barriers, both physical and institutional. But has anyone asked Hong Kong people whether they want to be submerged in a twin-headed metropolis?

Most basically, the authors of this waffly but tendentious report do not ask themselves: what is the role of the Hong Kong special administrative region as a unique entity within China and how can it best capitalise on this status? Instead, the 'golden age' will come through the closer integration of Hong Kong with its huge neighbour, Guangdong. It glosses over the fact that the most immediate neighbours are two special economic zones separate from Guangdong.

Indeed, running through the whole report is not so much a recognition of how Hong Kong can best benefit from 'one country' but how Guangdong can benefit from Hong Kong. Thus, for example, Guangdong should have priority in taking advantage of any benefits of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. Thus, for the future, Hong Kong can best solve its problem of an ageing population not so much by stepping up migration from all over China (and the world) but by easing access for Guangdong people. Not surprisingly, it backs the spending of billions by Hong Kong on the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen airport rail link and the high-speed Guangzhou-Hong Kong rail line without any need to discuss the economic returns from these politically motivated projects.

It is true that interaction of Hong Kong and the delta over the past 30 years has been to the great advantage of both. But that was due to some very specific circumstances which are already beginning to fade. Other regions in China, particularly the Yangtze River Delta, have become economic leaders, and the light industries of the Pearl River Delta, created with Hong Kong capital, are becoming less important to the nation.

While promoting integration, the report focuses on the economic gains for the whole region without addressing the issue of what it will do to Hong Kong. It forecasts that Pearl River Delta per capita income will reach London levels by 2038. But Hong Kong's already exceeds the London level!

One could dismiss all this as academic waffle. But, in the hands of politically motivated bureaucrats who love to think that they, not economic forces, should determine the future, many dangers lurk.

Do we really need a 'public governance framework in Guangdong and Hong Kong for community and daily livelihood matters'? Or a 'regional innovation system'? Or to join hands with Guangdong and Guanxi to 'set up an industry transfer park in the Beibu Gulf region'? Or create an equivalent of Singapore's Temasek to own key infrastructure in the delta?

These are all statist notions which come naturally to Mr Tsang and the Communist Party but should be recognised as the poison they are for Hong Kong.




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