Dr Simon Shen, in an opinion piece on Wednesday (May 13) for the Hong Kong Free Press, wrote that looking to Singapore’s example for solutions to Hong Kong’s problems would not work, writing that this would be “impossible.”
Dr Shen, an academic and the founding chairman of an international relations start-up, recounted how he was told the following by a government official: “Beijing indeed needs Hong Kong, but as long as there’s a way to maintain Hong Kong’s economy open and free, while at the same time tightening the control towards the political society, would this really not be acceptable to the international community?”
The example the official cited was that of Singapore, whose Government holds the reins tightly, and yet maintains the trust of the international community, implying that the same could happen for Hong Kong.
But Dr Shen does not believe this can be so, given the uniqueness of Hong Kong’s situation, especially after the widespread protests that transpired in the city last year.
He went on to explain that while Singapore is a US ally, how authoritarian its Government becomes does not affect US interests as both the administration and opposition support US interests.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, is a special administrative region of China, and is part of the process of “One Country” coming under “comprehensive rule.”
Dr Shen posits that if in Hong Kong “there is no elected parliament, a British-style rule of law, universal values and freedom of speech to act as a safety valve to counterbalance the willful action of ‘One Country’ in the name of ‘national interest’ then the amount of interest remaining for each nation will be totally up to the discretion of Beijing, not unlike the situation in Shanghai or Shenzhen.”
As for Singapore, Dr Shen writes that it has reliable corporate and banking systems in place, and moreover, has no “‘overlord’ with a completely opposite set of values” and therefore, its professional community is free to fulfill their role to boost Singapore as a global financial hub.
Singapore does not have the “One Country” pressure that Hong Kong is subjected to wherein “state-owned enterprises can demand Hong Kong manipulate accounts and exceed the domains of ‘Two Systems,’ such that eventually, the city’s compliance will not have any credibility anymore.”
Moreover, Singapore’s leaders are highly-paid civil servants not subject to corruption and has a citizenry that has internalized following rules strictly, unlike China, “where the customs of connection, tactfulness, and face” hold sway, which has had an adverse effect on Hong Kong. And if people can be arrested at random in Hong Kong, this could serve as a disincentive to international firms, unsure if they could also be detained indiscriminately.
The Government of Singapore is elected by its people, and its ruling party enjoys support from the majority, as opposed to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, whose ratings have plummeted to single digits in the wake of last year’s months-long protests and arrests.
Dr Shen writes that Singapore is an internationally recognized independent country “with highly predictable policies based on fundamental realistic consideration,” but as Hong Kong is molded more and more in the name of “One Country,” perceptions about China will be transferred more and more to it.
He adds that 11 percent of Hong Kong’s top 75 international trade partners have set their sights on Singapore in the wake of last year’s widespread protests. If the West begins to see Hong Kong with the same lens as it sees Shanghai or Shenzhen, Dr Shen argues, then why “shouldn’t the international community just use Singapore to connect with China?” —/TISG