Sandwiched between superpowers: Is Hong Kong just a pawn in US-Chinese rivalry, reports Pana Janviroj in two-part series finale

The United States and China are unlikely to undermine Hong Kong’s position as the world’s leading financial center in their struggle for power and influence in the region, according to leading academics from both countries.

Dr Richard Weixing Hu, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Macau, said that although the stakes are very high for the two countries, it is “of vital national interest for China not to let the “One country, two systems” arrangement fail ”. .

Dr William Overholt of the Kennedy School at Harvard University has suggested that while the US policy on Hong Kong, which includes sanctions, is designed to “express its disapproval” of violations of the city’s basic law, it does not ‘has “no desire to hurt” the people. from Hong Kong.

Overholt worked for several years in Hong Kong and was heavily involved in the island’s transition, frequently meeting with key Chinese leaders, especially former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji.

The two academics were optimistic about the future of Hong Kong’s economic and financial sectors.

They were speaking at a webinar on “The Future of Hong Kong and the Sino-US Lentil Division” hosted by Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 national media outlets in 20 Asian countries.

Dr Enze Han from the Department of Politics and Administration at the University of Hong Kong said that since the 2019 pro-democracy protests came to “nothing”, and with the National Security Law in place – also leading to a crackdown on the media – it would be better for Hong Kong to keep a low profile and stay out of disputes between the two superpowers.

He suggested, however, that the United States could help frustrated Hong Kong youth by clearing the way for immigration. “In order to be able to migrate abroad, it will be much clearer who they (young people) are,” he added.

Hu reiterated that China has a strong economic stake in Hong Kong and that it will see its successful integration in the Great Bay region.

He said the United States had commercial interests in Hong Kong and wanted to use it as a question to check and as a bargaining chip to pressure Beijing.

Overholt said there was a misconception in the United States and Western countries, and that they underestimated public support for the crackdown on rioters in 2019.

“The majority of Hong Kong supported the peaceful protests, but the violence of a minority was terrible and there was enormous anger against the violent rioters supporting Hong Kong independence and waving the British flag and destroying businesses.”

He was wary, however, of China’s reliability following the crackdown on booksellers, the kidnapping of a businessman (while on vacation in Thailand), the termination of the work visa of an editor-in-chief of the Financial Times and other actions that “broke all the great promises made to the people of Hong Kong.”

“All of these things have huge impacts. The entire Western relationship with Hong Kong depends on the absence of leakage of sensitive information to the mainland and depends on the functioning of the judicial system.

“Plus, threatening companies whose employees say something Beijing doesn’t like has a huge effect on companies’ decisions to have a major presence in Hong Kong. Most American companies have already moved to Shanghai and others are moving there. In fact, they feel safer expressing their opinions in Shanghai than in Hong Kong, ”Overholt said.

He noted that Hong Kong remains one of the world’s major financial centers and is likely to become even stronger with greater openness of the Chinese financial sector and, ironically, by US pressure on Chinese companies listed in New York. If China manages to break down some of Hong Kong’s oligopolies and monopolies, Hong Kong’s economy could become much more competitive than it is today, he said.

To improve for the future, he suggested that China stop overreacting every time people say the wrong thing politically, banning books, punishing a schoolboy for singing a song. “It leads to global publicity, to corporate headquarters asking if they want to have a big presence in Hong Kong. Maximizing Hong Kong’s success is to stop doing these things. They are not necessary for the security of Hong Kong, not necessary for the security of China. “

Hu, meanwhile, lamented that US-China relations risked deteriorating before improving, as each side was led by domestic political forces. In the United States it is Congress and interest groups, in China it is the rise of nationalism.

“Hong Kong is a very hot issue. Washington will continue to use it to demonize China and try to pressure Beijing and show Beijing’s behavior against the rules-based international order.

He said Beijing had become very defensive and was trying to defend its commitment to the One Country Two Systems agreement. With the National Security Law, he is trying to change things on the ground, and calm has returned to the city. “But it will take a long time for the hearts to return. Whether young people choose to identify with China will take time.

He warned that the United States would only hurt itself by increasing sanctions, while any effort to dissociate Hong Kong from the United States or the HK dollar would end up hurting the United States as well.

The webinar was co-moderated by Pana Janviroj and Panrawee Penny Meesupya from Bangkok.

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