City can no longer complacently assume the role of disinterested
third party in fast-changing relations between the West and China,
argues Zhou Bajun
United States President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that
he had authorized the Department of Commerce to significantly raise
tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from several foreign sources. The
decision followed an investigation by the department released on Feb 16
that concluded "unfair" quantities of steel and aluminum imported from
abroad hurt the US economy and even put national security at risk. The
sources of those "unfair" exports include the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region, Chinese mainland, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam.
This is the first time Hong Kong has ever been "blacklisted" by
the US government over exports. The HKSAR Government and five leading
business bodies of the city immediately expressed strong opposition to
the US decision.
The SAR government cited trade figures to refute US government
claims to justify its protectionist maneuver, pointing out the US enjoys
a more than $27 billion favorable balance of trade with Hong Kong every
year; the small unfavorable balance of trade in aluminum imports from
Hong Kong is only about $30 million a year on average. In the first 10
months of last year the US imported just about $30 million worth of
aluminum products from Hong Kong, accounting for less than 0.2 percent
of the total aluminum import value. It is simply preposterous to say
this can hurt the US economy and even put its national security at risk.
Hong Kong has long been known around the world as a free port for
international trade and has been spared fallout from trade wars until
now. This time the city has become a victim of "collateral damage",
presumably caught in the crossfire of a US-Chinese mainland trade spat
for the very first time. However, amid the unprecedented, profound and
all-round readjustment of the global politico-economic situation, one
should understand the US trade protectionism offensive against China
would include the HKSAR sooner or later because it is a part of the
People's Republic of China.
The SAR government is watching with great concern what further
protectionist measures based on unfounded claims the US government may
announce, adversely affecting Hong Kong's exports, in the days to come
but will wait and see how Washington responds to its opposition before
deciding what it can do to remedy the situation.
Even if the US government responds positively to the HKSAR
Government and business bodies, however, there is no way Hong Kong can
avoid the rising tide of trade protectionism triggered by this global
politico-economic adjustment. The city must prepare itself, in tactics
as well as strategy, for any turn of events from here on.
For starters, all members of Hong Kong society regardless of
their backgrounds must arrive at a correct common understanding of the
ongoing readjustment of the global economic, financial and political
Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city of world renown, an important
center of international finance and trade, a transport hub with about 10
percent of its population being non-Chinese. Many residents of Chinese
descent hold foreign passports. That is a pretty good reason to believe
most adult Hong Kong residents share a common understanding and attach a
fair amount of importance to the unprecedented, all-round and profound
readjustment of the global economic, financial and political situation.
Alas the reality is so ironically to the contrary, as Hong Kong society
has shown time and again that it has yet to reach such a common
understanding. After the US government readjusted its own global
strategies late last year and early this year and named China and Russia
as its main rivals, all the press around the world went gaga about it
except local media in Hong Kong, where little analytical light has been
shed on how the SAR is linked to and affected by the changing global
Hong Kong society also needs to realize sooner rather than later
that both the SAR and mainland are pursuing the same shared future for
Hong Kong was under British rule for more than one and a half
centuries before China resumed the exercise of sovereignty two decades
ago. The period in history when Hong Kong was separated from the
motherland led some local residents to say they are "from Hong Kong"
instead of Chinese. Given the openness of the Hong Kong economy, many
locals and especially those in the "establishment" were convinced the
city can navigate between the US-led Western bloc and China without
being caught up in their disputes.
Sometime after the opposition camp held the July 1 mass rally in
2003, a few pro-opposition members of the intelligentsia put forward the
idea of "a shared future for Hong Kong", claiming Hong Kong can serve
as an intermediary between China and Western powers over economic
matters. As the profound and all-round readjustment of the global
economic, financial and political situation continues, however, the US
has shattered this dream by declaring China one of its main rivals. Hong
Kong, as an inseparable part of China, can no longer assume the role of
an unaffected intermediary between the West and China.
Last but not the least, the SAR government and Hong Kong society
need to adopt forward-thinking measures to protect the city's own
interests against growing trade protectionism by Western developed
economies, particularly the US.