Letter from Hong Kong
I’ve been in Hong Kong for the last week or so, for the first time in a few years. Talking to people here, changes have been happening through the development of PRC control. Over the years the two ports of Hong Kong and Shanghai have vied to be the route into the heart of the mainland; until the political changes beginning in the late 1940s, the power was mainly with Shanghai, but the upheavals of the war and the establishment of the PRC allowed Hong Kong’s turbocharged growth during the second half of the last century and the beginning of this. Now, with both back ‘in-house’, as it were, the winds are clearly once again blowing strongly in favour of Shanghai. Not altogether surprising, as Hong Kong has long been seen as the epitome of the free-market dream, so how could the regime resist demonstrating the superiority of its philosophy? I was surprised, though, by the broker who who told me he was seriously considering shifting his business up to Shanghai - sooner rather than later, as his perception was of a continuing decline in Hong Kong’s influence versus its rival. As one door perhaps begins to close, the other swings a little wider.
But that’s a discussion for those with a great deal more knowledge and experience of the region than I have. What I find more intriguing is the comparison with the UK. Flying in to the airport, out of the window of the aeroplane, you can see a bridge, whose twin carriageways then cross a large platform and take a dive down into the sea. In the distance, atmospheric pollution permitting, you can see where they come back to the surface and head off as bridge again towards Macau. This is the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project, scheduled for opening early next year. And then the aircraft lands, at an airport constructed entirely anew, on land reclaimed from the sea and in close proximity to a major city, mostly consisting of high-rise buildings. In the time that airport was conceived and built, the UK has still been unable, not just to build the new runway capacity needed in the south of England, but unable even to agree at which existing airport it should be located, as the politicians squabble and scrap, always focussing on which possible location will garner them more votes rather than on which would be most effective. And I’m no civil engineer, but I’d put money on that bridge/tunnel project being a bigger challenge than a high-speed rail link; but check out the timeline of the bridge against that of HS2…..
Reflecting on that made me think a bit about how the UK is currently probably viewed from outside, and it’s not really a pretty picture. Our news outlets are dominated by Brexit and a miserablist political environment, with a government seemingly at war with itself and an opposition seemingly at war with reality.
The government bumbles along, trying to work out how it can achieve Brexit - incidentally, why did its supporters never bother to go into detail as to how it might happen? Did they not know either? - with limited success, and as far as other policies go, it appears to do no more than recycle those offered by the opposition at the previous (2015) election - energy price caps and the like. I’m no fan of the bureaucrats of the EU Commission, but I can sympathise with trying to negotiate not only with a moving target but simultaneously having to try to grasp a wriggling fish. Negotiation is indeed about compromise, but a fixed starting point is always helpful.
And the opposition? Perilously close to power, and yet still wedded to the great lie of the twentieth century. Propose structural changes by all means, but why, oh why, still advocate the system that killed probably upwards of 100 million people, mainly because they had different political views? And why keep telling us what Venezuela can show us, when its people are starving and have no medicines in one of the world’s most resource-rich countries? But of course the family of the former president who put all this in motion are up there in the billionaire ranks. Always the way; socialist/marxist/communist leaders always seem to end up on the top of the pile, apart from the ones who are liquidated along the way by their own comrades, of course.
That’s the picture of the UK from outside, I’m afraid. The economy stuck with Brexit uncertainty, a government unable to govern because it doesn’t know what to do and an opposition unfit to govern because what it threatens to do is repressive and backwards looking. Incidentally, has a “government-in-waiting” ever before admitted that its policies are likely to lead to a run on its currency? Here’s a clue, boys and girls: if you trash the currency, the next step is almost certainly to do the same to the entire economy. Maybe in those circumstances, you may see a glimmering light through the gloom, that may suggest the policies are not really terribly sensible, however much you may fool the gullible with free stuff.
Still, here the sun is shining, the horse racing is fun, you can still enjoy the mixture of cultures. Things may change as the two systems converge towards 2047, but right now, this place looks a whole lot more stable than the Mother of Parliaments.