US has higher stake in Hong Kong story than many there realize, says Kurt Tong: Bloomberg

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Recently departed Consul General makes compelling case for why the city should matter to Washington... and Beijing

"The US has more at stake here than many Americans realize," Tong wrote in a Bloomberg News opinion piece. "Opening doors to free and fair trade, with China and other partners, has been a consistent core interest of the US," and Hong Kong has been at the heart of that effort "ever since the US first opened its consulate in the city 175 years ago."

Hong Kong deserves US support now because the city's economy and society provide positive models for the entire region.

"The city shows how open markets and transparent governance work together to create prosperity," Tong wrote, adding that the rule of law, independent judiciary, and sense of fair play are important attractions for around 1,400 American firms operating in the city -- about 300 of which use Hong Kong as their regional headquarters. That's a higher number today than under Britain's colonial rule, he pointed out.

Government data show that Hong Kong is host to more regional HQs now than four years earlier.
Central to Hong Kong's success has been the city's high degree of autonomy granted under the "one country, two systems" formula that governed the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997, he said, adding that Beijing's growing encroachment on that autonomy posed a very real threat.

"During my three years as US Consul, I saw Beijing’s interference take many forms: the disqualification of electoral candidates based on their political views; the banning of political organizations; and the prosecution of political activists for encouraging others to peacefully block traffic five years ago."

This year's massive protests, sparked by the Hong Kong government's spectacular misreading of the public reaction to its attempt to railroad legislation to allow extradition to China's "unfair courts," offers proof that Beijing doesn't understand the "anxiety and tensions" inherant in the one country, two systems formula.

Beijing's constant "fretting" over Hong Kong and its freedoms betrays a lack of confidence in the city's future and its possible positive contribution to China's development, Tong wrote.

"Chinese leaders need to realize they could destroy Hong Kong’s economic specialness if they keep trying to align its political culture with mainland norms," he wrote.

Beijing also needs to realize that no foreign powers are trying to stoke revolution in Hong Kong, while foreign investors just want the city to remain as it was: a uniquely easy place to do business in China.

And as for Hong Kong's leaders? They "need to stay in closer touch with their people’s aspirations," as well as return their focus to nurturing the city's own strengths, rather than constantly trying to align themselves with Beijing's goals, he said.

"Autonomy is a 'use it or lose it' proposition," he said.

To read the full Bloomberg article, click on this link.