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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/3/17

HK's role for next 20 years? Silk Road "super-connector"

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From Asia Times

It doesn't have to be part of Xi's Chinese Dream if it doesn't want to, but Hong Kong remains ideally positioned to provide much of the glue in a China-led globalization 2.0

It was 20 years ago today [July 1]. Oh, those were heady, exciting days, informally regulated by a clock in Beijing's Tiananmen counting even the seconds left for Hong Kong's return to the motherland.

They were ominous days, too. At the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, temporarily propelled to the center of the universe, booze-driven Western journalists sketched Apocalypse Now scenarios for the ultimate crossroads of East and West.

The endgame turned out to be the proverbial anti-climax. No border invasion. No mass arrests -- not even one arrest. No currency crash (that in fact would happen to the Thai baht, a day later). No newspaper shutdown. PLA soldiers quietly occupied barracks left by the Brits. No goose-stepping troops patrolled bustling Kowloon.

Chris Patten, the last colonial governor and a fan of egg tarts, left alongside a somber Prince Charles in the royal yacht Britannia, which, deprived of ruling the nearby waves, was later decommissioned. The Patten daughters wept, as profusely as the Blade Runner-style rain fell.

After partying at the packed Post 1997 club like there was no tomorrow, I took a plane to Xian the day after, on my way to the Silk Road, Xinjiang and beyond, just to learn that in fact large swathes of Asia had also handed over their sovereignty. The crash of the baht was the start of the Asian financial crisis, which would hit Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea particularly hard. As the top global financial center in Asia, Hong Kong recovered -- fast.

Based on what I had learned by studying the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping's master plan, my gut feeling was that Beijing would allow Hong Kong to remain essentially what it was, that it would hold to the solemn "one country, two systems" promise enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong's Basic Law, the city's de facto mini-constitution.

In the early years, it all went well. According to Hong Kong University surveys, public confidence in "one country, two systems" was around 60%.

But then, over the years, the feeling grew of Beijing encroaching on Hong Kong's cherished autonomy -- leading to selected cries in favor of "independence." Patten, by the way, now tells Hong Kong youth to forget about the idea of a "breakaway city-state."

Three years ago, the State Council laid down the law, via a 15,500-word white paper on the "accurate" understanding of "one country, two systems." In a nutshell, everything related to Hong Kong's autonomy depends on Beijing's final word. "One country" trumps "two systems."

And that brings us to the 20th anniversary of the handover.

Hong Kong as a "super-connector"

President Xi Jinping's visit to Hong Kong is, of course, pregnant with meaning (he will be followed, next week, by the Liaoning aircraft carrier). But even more crucial is where he's going next: Russia (yet another "strategic partnership" mini-summit with Vladimir Putin) and Germany, for the G20 in Hamburg.

The China-Russia partnership is as much about infrastructure and energy (the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor; the Moscow-Kazan high-speed railway; Arctic sea route exploration; energy pipelines) as it is about aligning the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

At the 12th G-20, Xi will once again stress globalization 2.0, the ongoing revolution in intelligent industries and sustainable development. This is all music to the ears of German industrialists, who want solid, expanding trade relations all across Eurasia.

Hong Kong appears to have lost its unique position as a gateway to China, and then attempted to rebrand itself as a glitzy entertainment/shopping/tourism hub. But that's just not enough.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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