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Friday, March 27, 2020, 11:07
Economic problems should awaken us to our toxic mentalities
By Paul Yeung
Friday, March 27, 2020, 11:07 By Paul Yeung

Two recently published indicators don’t bode well for Hong Kong. The first one is the unemployment figures. According to the latest official statistics released on March 17, the city’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased significantly to 3.7 percent in the three months up to February, which marks the highest level in more than nine years. The second one is that Hong Kong has lost its top ranking in the Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Index of Economic Freedom — for the first time in 25 years. These two developments arguably reflect the worsening economic situation. But what is more worrying are the political implications.

Against this economic backdrop, Hong Kong people can go down one of two paths. The first would lead to political instability and social chaos. Given the worsening economic situation, social anxiety is likely to increase. The opposition camp is likely to make full use of this to advance its political agendas. For instance, it will blame the government for the economic decline, which is actually the result of three things: the Sino-US trade war, months of riots, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the camp will put further pressure on the SAR government to implement electoral reforms that favor their candidates. Moreover, they will further stoke anti-mainland sentiment. Should they succeed in advancing their agenda, the political disorder they will create and the current economic predicament will be a perfect recipe for creating chaos.

Alternatively, Hong Kong people can choose another path, one leading to stability and economic resurrection to the benefit of all citizens. But whether it will prevail depends on whether the economic downturn will wake Hong Kong people up from the long nightmare caused by persistent riots. For people to choose the second path, it is imperative that they first recognize the scourge of two suicidal mentalities and then condemn them.

Alternatively, Hong Kong people can choose another path, one leading to stability and economic resurrection to the benefit of all citizens. But whether it will prevail depends on whether the economic downturn will wake Hong Kong people up from the long nightmare caused by persistent riots

The first is the so-called “burning together” or “mutual destruction” mentality peddled by political radicals. The unemployment rate has no doubt risen, which is likely to continue. What is equally worrying is that the latest underemployment rate suggests many economic activities weakened. The underemployment rate in the three months to February is 1.5 percent — a five-year high. The increase is seen in the sectors of construction, transportation, retail, accommodation and food services. The city’s current economic and unemployment situation is not far from the so-called “burning together” scenario. When the rioters began to storm the streets, many residents took it lightly because few believed the radicals genuinely wanted to “burn together”; some even said they understood the radicals’ demands. Now the cold reality is that the damage cause by months of violence has made Hong Kong more vulnerable to the threat of the novel coronavirus. It is time for Hong Kong people to stand up and say no to any attempts to further harm the city.

The second one is the anti-mainland mentality embraced and promoted by the radicals. The anti-government movement started in June is also an anti-mainland movement. Mainland Chinese are one of the targets for attack. As a result, the anti-extradition-bill movement has undermined the relationship and interaction between Hong Kong and mainland cities.

The opposition camp claimed that what they were doing was protecting Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, or “freedom”. However, Hong Kong’s decline in Heritage Foundation’s index tells us otherwise. The city’s most significant decrease is in the category of “investment freedom”. “Intensifying uncertainties relating to security issues have undermined an otherwise favorable investment climate,” the Heritage Foundation noted, adding that “The ongoing political and social turmoil has begun to erode its reputation as one of the best locations from which to do business, dampening investment inflows.”

Ironically, the movement claiming to safeguard our freedom has undermined our “economic freedom”, which is one of the city’s strengths. Now that Hong Kong’s international reputation has been somewhat damaged, it has a stronger need to make full use of the opportunities created by the national strategies like the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative.

We have to learn from our mistakes as soon as possible. The economic downturn is just the first lesson. Just as Jesse Jackson, the American political leader and activist, once said, “We must all learn a good lesson — how to live together”. That is the new challenge facing Hong Kong people.

The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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