Monday 13 October 2014

China and Hong Kong: Awkward

It's hard not to take an interest in China, which may already be the world's largest economy - quite a bit ahead of schedule, it seems.  I am a sino-novice, but have had a very positive experience of Hong Kong, which is a start.  Things like the Chinese reaction to MH 370 I find puzzling:  and their foreign policy is clearly naive in many respects, endlessly tripping up over things it should take in its stride. But they'll get smarter.

In the meantime ... while I was in HK earlier in the year there was a big anniversary demo, but the recent protests hadn't started.  Although these seem to have peaked, there are still daily events in the series, faithfully chronicled by Wiki - at least for western audiences - so the embers are still glowing.  Where does all that lead ?

On the one hand, it seems China is steadily and unsurprisingly trying to nibble at the quite tangible freedoms granted to HK and Macau for 50 years under the 'one nation, two systems' set-up.   They are up against a young, dynamic, well-educated, quite stroppy population that enjoys those freedoms very much.  Can anyone imagine them signing up for old-style communist clap-trap ?  (For a glimpse of what old-school 'monolithic ideology' is all about, it's worth reading the 'Ten Principles' of China's old buddy, North Korea.  Who'd buy that without a gun in his temple?)

Strategically, I strongly incline to the idea that China - surely the country with the longest and most patient historical viewpoint - must have as one of its highest considerations the desire to re-integrate Taiwan, just as the old West Germany was fixated on reunification.  The odds of this must be many times better with a happy HK in the fold.  Another source of optimism must be that there are still some 33 years to run under the 50-year dispensation: surely over such a long period there is likely to be still further liberalisation in China, and softening of 'communist' doctrine.  The very existence of a state of affairs in HK that is broadly satisfactory to China might even act to deflect the compass systematically in that direction.

On the other hand, there is the observation that the 2008 Olympics didn't have the fundamental effect on China that many (including me) thought would happen.  And then there's the famous story about the Emperor's concubines.  One day, the Emperor decided his giggling concubines should be made to parade and march in orderly ranks, but early attempts to achieve this were like trying to herd cats, and greeted with gales of laughter.  

The Emperor called in one of his generals.  He, too, found chaos when he barked his orders to the assembled harem on the parade square.  So he had two of them beheaded on the spot. And the rest all immediately fell in line.

I have a feeling this story gets told around the CPC Politburo table from time to time.  Let's hope the 'Taiwan Strategy' faction predominates, and is not just a fiction of my optimistic imagination.



dearieme said...

"surely the country with the longest and most patient historical viewpoint": except, presumably each time they burned all the books and buried the scholars alive.

CityUnslicker said...

Xi has a big issue with corruption. China is in reality at a cross-roads of heading Russia style to Oligarchy or moving to a more Western/Indian approach.

My money is not on the latter. There will be a big blow up in china when the west becomes too poor to buy its stuff. The Party and the rich will seek to devour the spoils.

Against this view is a hope that the internet and globalisation will force change - but too many despots in the world show they can stand in the face of this without much problem at all.

BrianSJ said...

China has other regional displutes, and Tibet, to consider.
China is never going to put a value on human life - that is a delusional hope from the West.

Jan said...

The hot-headed youth in HK probably need to calm down a bit..if they don't it could end badly.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

We should stop pretending we care about what happens to the Hong Kongers. We sold them all down the river the day Thatcher signed the Sino-British joint declaration.

But China won't do a Tiananmen in HK. There's no need and it would end for all time their chances of peacefully persuading Taiwan back into the fold. They have to show "one country, two systems" works. Much easier to let it drag on peacefully until the locals get fed up with the disruption to trade and it peters out.

Ryan said...

What makes you think that China has a long perspective? The CCP only came to power two generations ago, and after Thatcher juiced up the HongKong economy before launching it like a poisoned arrow at the heart of the CCP they have been struggling to manage it ever since (HongKong GDP per capita being 5x greater than mainland China).

Bear in mind that the CCP actually prefers the "two systems" approach because it stops the mainland chinese realising that they still don't have the freedoms or wealth that the HongKong chinese have. For the same reason the CCP won't want Taiwan becoming part of China in its present state - a nation that is clearly better than anything the CCP can deliver with nominal GDP per capita 3x higher than the mainland. Imagine the message that sends out - the hated capitalists that fled to Taiwan did a much better job than the CCP.

The CCP hates Taiwan for everything it stands for - but I don't think they really want Taiwan to become part of the mainland (unless they have destroyed it first). It is just "fightin' talk". Companies like Foxconn are clearly not concerned:

"Taiwanese cumulative investments in China are unofficially estimated well in excess of US$200 bn. There are around 80,000 Taiwanese companies located in China, accounting for 70% of China’s electronics manufacturing."

andrew said...

Having read 'why nations fail', the authors say on a long historic view, the chinese state will probably collapse due to internal unrest.
They dont give a timescale.
They say that this can be avoided not necessarially though democracy, but through a consistent rules based legal system that supports property rights for all citizens. and the ruling class being seen to run the country in the interests of all rather than the elite.

It is also true that 6 of the top 10 death tolls by war have been in china.

If your dad spends a lot of time going on about how much easier life is, how his problems were with finding food rather than mobile internet, and you feel better off every year, chances are you will put up with a lot.
When that stops being true things may change very quickly.

Nick Drew said...

oh yeah, loads of things that could go wrong for them: & the Chinese officially discourage talk of the 21st C being 'China's Century'

but how many western politicians, with at least one eye always on the next election, could say this:

"coolly observe, calmly deal with things, hold your position, hide your capacities, bide your time, accomplish things where possible"

(Deng Xiaoping)