Editorial : Hong Kong's plight

【明報專訊】Hong KONG's economic growth has remained negative for two months. It is in technical recession. In the foreseeable future, social upheavals will continue to take a toll on the retail and tourist industries, while the city's imports and exports will continue to be affected by the lingering uncertainty over the developments of the Sino-US trade war. Difficulties on the domestic and foreign fronts will plunge Hong Kong into an unprecedentedly tough situation.

Last year Shenzhen's economic scale exceeded that of Hong Kong. This year Guangzhou's economy grows by 6%, while Hong Kong's growth is negative, meaning that it will definitely lag behind Guangzhou. In terms of economic scale, Hong Kong has fallen from first place to fifth place and is behind Shanghai and Beijing. Chongqing and Tianjin will be the next to overtake Hong Kong. True, the mainland's economy is growing at a faster rate than Hong Kong's, but that does not mean that Hong Kong's economy will not grow again. The domestic turmoil in Hong Kong in recent months can be temporary. What merits greater concern is its position in the country's economic development.

The story of Venice, a city in Italy, is one we are all familiar with. Strategically located at a spot where the sea route from Europe to Africa must pass through, it was a hub of commerce and trade as well as the first real financial centre in the world. However, as Bartolomeu Dias, a maritime explorer, found a new route that skipped the Cape of Good Hope, Britain, Spain and Portugal began to scramble for colonies through sea routes. As a result, Venice's geographical monopoly was shattered. Its commercial and financial industries continued to decline, relying only on the tourist industry nowadays. As the tourist industry became over-developed, property prices rocketed. Having nowhere to stay, local residents left the city one after another, further hurting the economy. In 2017 two banks were on the brink of bankruptcy and had to be bailed out by the government. The municipal government was cash-strapped and in great trouble.

Similarly, Hong Kong's commerce and trade took off on the strength of its deep-water port and its location on the southern tip of the country. In the 1950s, as the West imposed an embargo on China as a result of the Korean war, Hong Kong's entrepot trade became its pillar industry. It also kick-started the development of the shipping and financial industries. However, after the Reform and Opening Up, mainland ports became increasingly sophisticated. Hong Kong ports' throughput fell from first place in the world to seventh place. However, as the RMB is not freely convertible and it has to be internationalised, Hong Kong remains indispensable. As a result, Hong Kong has kept its status as a financial centre and even has room for further development. Hong Kong's fortune of being able to rely on the country is the envy of Venice.

Another city's fate has been even more dismal. Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is located between Europe and Asia. The sea factor also made it an important commercial and trade city. It was also affected by the discovery of a new sea route to Asia and fell in status. Hong Kong is different. It does not allow or need a revolution. A social movement does not mean lawlessness and wantonness are accepted. The key to resolving the situation lies with the SAR government's determination and vigour.

明報社評2019.11.18:香港優越角色不再 內外交困長遠堪憂







embargo : an official order to stop trade with another country

throughput : the amount of work, goods, or people that are dealt with in a particular period of time

indispensable : too important to be without

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