Hong Kong: From a British colony to a miracle economy
Although Hong Kong was a tiny British crown colony seized from China in 1840 during the opium wars, Hong Kong had soon become a developmental miracle by the end of the 20th century just a few years before the British pulled out from the colony.
When I landed in the colony on my way to Taiwan, I found one of the most prosperous places in the world, spread over just 1,000 sqm of land with a population of 7 million people.
There was practically no army or navy except a defense agreement with Britain, which China had acceded to and been willing to deal with as a British colony.
Both countries and the inhabitants prospered in what was to become one of the four “Asian Tigers,” surpassing scores of countries like mainland China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia, with the seventh largest stock exchange and an economy that has little or no government control.
Besides, China is an important hub for international finance and trade and according to its own literature, has one of the greatest concentrations of corporate headquarters in the Asia-Pacific.
I was wonderstruck and had to ask those I interviewed, mainly British, about the future of the country, especially under the mantle of the still socialist Chinese economy, but they were optimistic and said that the relationship was doing fine so far and that there was no reason to worry, especially with a market capital of two trillion dollars.
The British government and people must have made fortunes out of their colonization because for most of the 20th century, the mainland had remained closed for international business and finance under the old style Maoist regime with a primitive economy.
With a per capita GDP of over $50,000, it beats most Asian and African countries, as well as most non-oil producing Arab states. It is a cause for wonder and admiration of course, but for just how long? The general consensus has been that the mainland will develop at a great pace under the influence of Hong Kong as opposed to the contrary.
Opposite the island of Hong Kong is a small enclave called Macau, which was a former Portuguese colony. I visited Macau near the time of the handover just before the rise of China and the decline of Portugal. I spent three days in a ship from Hong Kong to attend the opening of the Hyatt Hotel, which was owned by a Saudi company that also owned four Hyatt hotels in the Kingdom at the time.
Despite the many decades of Portuguese rule, the enclave was in a depraved state, with gambling and a night life of unbelievable licentiousness that attracted Chinese from the mainland and foreigners from Hong Kong.
Both colonies (Hong Kong and Macau) were joined to China under the so-called ‘one country, two systems’ of Maoist and Marxist thought. And China is still grappling with the problem of Taiwan which is protected by the United States which has asserted itself on some occasions. US intervention has deterred both the mainland from trying to subdue Taiwan and restrained the latter from doing anything foolish to provoke its giant neighbor.
The policy has worked well thus far and the two countries share trade agreements with each other while Taiwan has invested over $150 billion dollars in China.
Eventually, the two countries will come closer and China which is shedding the Marxist system in favor of a semi-free enterprise may well become even closer to Taiwan perhaps forming a loose federation in the long run. Now, the Taiwanese who are much richer than their neighbors are able to travel more freely to the mainland while some opulent Chinese slowly drift to the island as tourists putting into practice the ancient wisdom for reconciliation which is a typically Chinese tradition. So Taiwan may well become the third system of China without much of a fight.
During my first visit, I stayed at the Hilton in the original colony, although much of the action is in Kowloon, the new part preferred by residents and foreigners.
This permitted me to travel between the two parts in about twenty minutes but because I was arriving from the Kingdom and the Gulf I was not particularly fascinated by the shops. Apart from Chinese goods and antiques there was nothing for me and my family. So I opted for guided tours and the decent night-life and dinners. These are out of this world with the finest Chinese food on earth.
• Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah