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The value of Hong Kong

July 03,2017
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When China was still poor, many young Chinese men and women smuggled themselves into Hong Kong under British rule in search of jobs and food. They risked their lives to avoid armed guards, crossing barb-wired walls or swimming the wild sea.

When people called for the reinforcement of border control, Deng Xiaoping had a different idea. “We can create a Hong Kong.” It led to the development of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Xi Zhongxun, then governor and secretary of Guangdong Province and father of Xi Jinping, oversaw the project.

After nearly 40 years have passed, there are many Hong Kong-like cities in China as Deng wished. Nevertheless, Chinese people continue to head for Hong Kong. The difference is that they are no longer entering illegally and get One-way Permits, or People’s Republic of China Permit for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao.

There has never been a day that the daily quota of 150 people was not met. About 50,000 Chinese move to Hong Kong per year. People still have the Hong Kong dream because Hong Kong has value, charm and merits that booming cities in China cannot offer.

A woman in her late 20s came to Hong Kong six years ago upon graduating from college and works for a global company. “I will obtain a permanent residency in Hong Kong next year and have no intention to go back to China,” she says.

Life in Hong Kong is competitive and challenging, but she praises that people are liberal and flexible, and society is in order. “In short, the quality of life is different from China,” she said.

At a national level, Hong Kong is still valuable to China. China raises capital mostly in Hong Kong. Global companies’ investments on China go through Hong Kong’s financial markets. Listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange is the prime goal for Chinese companies aspiring to be a second Alibaba.

Eighty-three percent of trade settlements in Chinese yuan, which challenges the status of U.S. dollars, are completed in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has long been the biggest free port and logistics hub in the world. Countless innovative companies are springing up in Shenzhen, but it cannot replace Hong Kong.

These functions are impossible without a perfect market economy and capitalism system. It is why China needs to maintain one-country two-systems. As Xi Jinping made his first visit to Hong Kong in his presidency last week, he said he would ensure that one-country two-systems continues.

He clearly intended to reassure Hong Kong and the world. Xi wore a smile as he arrived and gave a speech in Hong Kong. He seemed like a different person from the stern-faced president in Beijing. Xi also must have felt the charm of Hong Kong the moment he arrived at the airport.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 1, Page 26

*The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

YEH YOUNG-JUNE