Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Replying to Gordon Chang’s tweet about Hong Kong independence

Gordon Chang’s tweet, 20 January
I’m addressing a recent tweet (above) by Gordon G. Chang because it’s been Liked and Retweeted a lot, but it’s wrong in important ways. 
Here is his tweet, on 20th January:
#China has lost a whole generation in #HongKong, and due to Beijing's intransigence this generation will eventually demand separation from the mainland. The Chinese created an independence movement and will continue to fuel it. #antiELA.  
1.   Support for independence is a minority.  Even democracy uber-activist Joshua Wong admits this. The latest poll on independence has public support at 11%. Most Hongkongers understand that demanding independence is suicidal. 

And in any case....

2.   China will never allow independence to Hong Kong.  No matter how much, as Chang claims,  “this generation will eventually demand separation....”, Beijing simply won’t allow it.
But should an independence movement ever gain steam, Beijing has powerful levers to stop it:
  • Food: we get 93% from China
  • Water: we get 70% from China
  • Electricity: we get 23% from China (all nuclear!). 
  • Not to mention... 
  • The PLA. The largest army in the world. Garrisons here in HK and just over the border.
Q: Which of these has Beijing deployed so far? A: None.
What it has deployed, to widespread consternation, is: Patience.
It has opted to let us stew in our own juice. But that patience won't last forever.
And it’s clear that that mainland China has a stranglehold on Hong Kong, should Hong Kong ever try to declare unilateral independence. How about: let’s not.
This fact, this truth, that China will never allow Hong Kong independence, is uncomfortable to many people. So they rail against it. But it’s futile, sad though it may be. Best, in my view -- and in the view of nearly 90% of Hongkongers -- to accept that truth and get on with life and get on with trying to secure the freedoms we already have. Or we will find what Beijing losing patience looks like....

3. The world acknowledges China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. It is enshrined in our own constitution, the Basic Law, as negotiated between China and the UK, and registered with the United Nations.  
Our future here in Hong Kong is with China and as a bridge between China and the world, not as an isolated outpost.  We can be “One Country, Two Systems”, we can be “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong”, having an unprecedented level of self-rule. That is, unprecedented autonomy either in a China context, or as compared with cities like London, New York and Tokyo.  

4.  We can still be critical of the excesses of the Beijing government: as in Xinjiang (the Uygur issue), Tibet, human rights, censorship. Indeed, we in Hong Kong have been -- I have been -- and continue to be, loud critics of Beijing. We can do that because we have out Seven Freedoms, including freedom of the media.

These existing freedoms are imperilled by pointless charges at the independence gate. 

5.  Changs main China prediction is wrong (so far).  His “The Coming Collapse of China” was written in 2000, when China was the seventh largest economy in the world. Twenty years later and China is the second largest, on its way to being the largest. Some collapse. 

Still, I give Chang kudos for putting down a clear and provocative thesis. Putting his name on the line. Good on ‘yer, Gordie! And his key point, the danger of China's provincial debt, remains true.
And he may yet be proved correct in the end.  His thesis is unfalsifiable. He can always say “oh well, the collapse hasn’t happened... yet”. All dynasties end, all empires fall. (Bertrand Russel: “...all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, .... the whole temple of mans achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins...”.)
I often predicted trouble for the Chinese economy, back in my consulting days, in the eighties and nineties. It was safer to be a bit gloomy. But I’d always end up laying off the bet with a saver: “China Bears are the ones who’ve been bitten”. If you’d shorted China any time in the last forty years, pity you.

I’m also not quite sure about Chang's comment on“Beijing intransigence”. Where? How? When?  If he’s talking about the moves to universal suffrage back in 2014, I’ve addressed that here.  The failure then to make progress was the fault of the Pan-dems, not Beijing's.  
If he’s talking about lately, then what? Even the extradition bill fiasco was not down to Beijing, but to Carrie Lam; Beijing warned her it could be trouble.  
I’m no fan of Beijing, especially Xi Jinping’s Beijing. But not everything is Beijing’s fault. Just as Trump is not always wrong!