|When I lived in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s, it was often referred to as “the Gateway to Mainland China”, a critical role that has propelled Hong Kong to become one of the wealthiest and most successful financial centres and commercial ports in the world. With a major capitalist service economy characterised by low taxation, free trade and the British rule of war, Hong Kong has played a vital role in facilitating two-way trade and investment between China and the rest of the world for many decades, going back to the late 1800s.
Whilst Hong Kong’s location, history and topography played an important part in its success, it was the people that built Hong Kong. A British colonial administration plus a low touch bureaucracy, combined with the hard working, creative and entrepreneurial Chinese, many of whom were successful farmers and capitalists who escaped Mainland China in the 1950s and brought with them valuable management skills and experience, created the Hong Kong that we all grew to know and love.
When Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, it was the jewel in China’s crown, a glittering city which towered above all of China’s cities at the time and ensured that its Government retained “a high degree of autonomy”, an experiment that was fully embraced by all sides. As a result, Hong Kong retained and expanded its role as “the Gateway”, an important function which created benefits for all, especially for China which was still an emerging economy in 1997 and only one-fifth of the size it is today.
However, after over 20 successful years of ‘one country two systems’ and the passing of the new Hong Kong National Security Law on 30 June 2020, many believe that Hong Kong’s best days are behind it, and its special status as the Gateway is compromised by China’s growing interference and control. It’s hard to predict the future, especially in these uncertain times, but there’s no doubt that China has emerged as a strong economic force in its own right and that Hong Kong may soon become “just another Chinese city” as is feared by the media and politicians.
Whatever the outcome, Hong Kong’s role as the Gateway is under threat. It’s time for new Gateways.