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
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
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
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.
TOP OF THE PAGE