The Korea Herald


[Zhou Bajun] Hong Kong needs to reposition itself

By Lee Yoon-joo

Published : Dec. 18, 2015 - 18:00

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Some people here have urged the Hong Kong government to try and join the Trans-Pacific Partnership since the U.S.-led free trade pact became official earlier this year.

Those who support this idea include three types. The first type is those who are politically naive and think it is necessary and easy for Hong Kong to join the TPP simply because it is one of the freest open market economies in the world. The second is those who are capable of political thinking, but only to a certain point. They understand the TPP is a means for some countries with ulterior motives against China, but believe Hong Kong can benefit from both sides. And the third type is those who willingly advocate a TPP membership because they want to turn Hong Kong into an instrument to be used by countries hostile to China. People of the first type are simply clueless -- while those of the other two types are either narcissistic or wishful dreamers.

The TPP was originally initiated by New Zealand, Singapore, Chile and Brunei in 2002. The U.S. did not join it until September 2008. The world witnessed a number of major events in 2008. The year marked the beginning of the latest reshuffle of the global economic, financial and political situation. One of the causes can be traced back to the debacle of the Doha round of World Trade Organization membership negotiations. This began in November 2001, but we are still stuck with it today. The U.S. initially intended to take command of the Doha round of WTO talks, but had to give up when it saw no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of dictating multilateral global trade rules. But as one door closes, another opens. The U.S. found another opportunity to achieve the same rule-setting goals in the TPP; it not only joined it in 2008, but also immediately took control of the negotiations.

The next step Washington took was launching the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks in June 2013, in a bid to command two regional multilateral trade agreements and thus occupy the lead position in writing the global economic rules. U.S. President Barack Obama said after the initial signing of the TPP agreement on Oct. 5, “We must not let countries like China write the rules of the global economy.” This is further evidence that the U.S. is hell-bent on containing China in whatever way it can.

The terms of the TPP are such that its intention to exclude China is all too obvious, not to mention the fact that any outside economy must obtain approval from the founding member states -- the U.S. in particular -- if it wants to join the TPP.

Hong Kong remains an independent tariff zone due to the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. But, after all, it is a special administrative region of China and not a sovereign entity. When it seeks to join regional trade agreements of which China is already a member state, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-China Free Trade Area, the ASEAN member states cannot but be mindful of the fact that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is part of China. As with the TPP, no one in their right mind should expect its founding members to treat Hong Kong as a sovereign entity instead of as part of China.

Some of those who want Hong Kong to join the TPP are not unaware of certain member states’ political designs against China. But they are somehow convinced the SAR can gain from dealing with both sides. They apparently forget Hong Kong was never able to do that even in the first 30 years of the nation’s reforms and liberalization. Western countries have yet to ease export bans on certain high-tech products to China because the U.S. does not let them. Hong Kong as a part of China has been under the same suspicion and treated similarly over the years. That is a simple fact.

As such, Hong Kong must reposition itself in the global economic, financial and political landscape as the latter undergoes a profound “ground shift.” Its future depends on how well it keeps its economic development in sync with the nation’s development strategy.

By Zhou Bajun

The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings. -- Ed.

(China Daily)