Friday, December 6, 2013, 08:05
Hong Kong and Silent Contest
By Lau Nai-keung

Silent Contest, a documentary allegedly produced by the People’s Liberation Army and other notable institutions, appeared on the Internet a couple of months ago. It contains highly controversial assertions, including what some people describe as an “anti-American conspiracy theory”. Although it was later removed, the fact that some high-level organizations produced the documentary and somehow let it find its way onto the Internet sent an eerie message around the world.

Hong Kong and Silent ContestThe message of the Silent Contest is controversial not so much because its claims can be challenged, but because it evokes memories of our country’s modern history which some people find unpleasant. It contains terminology from a bygone era that is now categorized as ultra-leftist, and a system of thought that unifies these words and gives them meaning. It is a Marxist-Leninist throwback with less Chinese characteristics, certainly not with the brand of Chinese characteristics we have grown accustomed to.

At the end of the day, however, the “silent contest” cannot be won by publicity alone. Whether socialism is superior to capitalism is not just a theoretical question; it depends on performance. We need better philosophers, social scientists and publicists for sure, but they are not the whole story.

In this regard, the recent US government shutdown is a major setback for capitalism. It gives a timely reminder to the world that an institution is only as good as the people who maintain it. If the US cannot perform as its propaganda promises, how can we expect better results from developing countries?

Thomas Friedman best captures this sentiment with the observation that: “Over the years, I’ve seen an America that was respected, hated, feared and loved. But traveling around China and Singapore last week, I was confronted repeatedly with an attitude toward America that I’ve never heard before: ‘What’s up with you guys?’”

When US-style democracy is no longer perceived as fail-safe, we begin to realize that any “enlightened authoritarian” can easily beat the benchmark: both work brilliantly sometimes; both can be downright repulsive in other times. This is where the element of soft power comes into play: other things being equal, the value of a brand is the determining factor. Right now, US-style democracy has higher brand equity, but China’s governance model is catching up.

In the documentary, the silent contest is one between “capitalism” and “socialism”. From our standpoint here in Hong Kong, we have been fighting the silent contest at the forefront of the battlefield for more than half a century and are losing it as of today. If our nation needs experts to fight the silent contest it has to source them from here. This is the place where the veterans are — whereas our mainland counterparts are fighting with the aid of national policies protecting the information technology, communication and education sectors, etc. But we are maneuvering in much more hostile territory.

Designated as a Special Administration Region operating under the “principles of capitalism” and “tasked” with the development of an international financial center, it seems that Hong Kong is destined to side with the nation’s opponent in the contest.

An alternative to submitting ourselves to this gloomy fate is to embrace and resolve the contradiction between “capitalism” and “socialism”. Strangely enough, this is not happening here, but in New York.

With Bill de Blasio winning a landslide victory in the mayoral election, a position that has been kept by Republican business heavyweights for almost two decades, people celebrated the New Yorkers’ resolution for a “left turn”. While it is unclear what “left” means today, it tells us that a city that houses the world’s largest stock exchange is willing to get rid of the old elites and the old mindset.

“Capitalism”, as promised under the Basic Law, is open to interpretations and possibilities. If we are creative, it can benefit all Hongkongers and become our nation’s secret weapon in the silent contest.

The author is a member of the Commission on Strategic Development.