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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

香港經濟連續兩季出現負增長,進入技術性衰退期,在可見未來仍然會因為社會動盪而影響零售與旅遊業,並且受到中美貿易戰前景變數尚存而影響進出口,內外交困使香港陷入前所未有的困境。

香港的經濟規模去年被深圳超過,今年廣州有6%的增幅,香港則出現負增長,必然落後於廣州,香港在全國的經濟規模排名,從第一漸次跌到第五(亦低於上海、北京),接着後來居上的將會是重慶和天津。內地經濟增長速度比香港快,並不意味着香港經濟不再增長。香港近月出現的內部動盪,可能也是短暫因素,最大的隱憂是香港在國家經濟發展中的位置。

意大利威尼斯的故事,大家都熟,憑藉歐洲往非洲海路必經之地的位置,商業與貿易發達,曾是世界上首個真正意義上的金融中心,但由於航海冒險家迪亞士發現繞過非洲好望角的航線,引發英國、西班牙和葡萄牙競相從海路爭奪殖民地,威尼斯地理位置的壟斷地位被打破,商貿與金融業不斷滑落,至今只剩下旅遊業一枝獨秀。由於旅遊業過度發展,房地產價格飈升,本地居民「無處容身」紛紛遷出,經濟進一步受到打擊,2017年兩間銀行面臨破產而需政府打救,市政府財政左支右絀出現嚴重危機。

香港同樣因有深水港以及處於國家南端而商貿發達,1950年代因韓戰西方對中國實施禁運而使香港轉口貿易成為支柱產業,並帶動航運和金融業發展。改革開放後,內地港口愈益發達,香港港口吞吐量從世界第一跌到第七,金融業由於人民幣並非自由兌換貨幣,而且人民幣要國際化,香港仍有不可替代作用,令香港金融中心地位不但得以保留,還有進一步發展空間。香港背靠國家的「運氣」,是威尼斯可望而不可及的。

另一個城市的命運更加淒慘,黎巴嫩首都貝魯特處於歐亞之間,海港因素也令其成為商貿重鎮,同樣受到發現通往亞洲新海路的影響,地位下降。香港則不同,香港不允許也不需要革命,社會運動也不接受無法無天的任意妄為,解決手段取決於特區政府的決心與魄力。

■Glossary

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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