Hong Kong is still wet behind the ears at 21 since return to Chinese rule, as she figures out her role

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Hong Kong is still wet behind the ears at 21 since return to Chinese rule, as she figures out her role

“At 15, I set my heart upon learning; at 30, I had my feet planted firmly on the ground; at 40, I no longer suffered from doubts about myself; at 50, I knew what heaven intended for me; at 60, my ears were attuned; at 70, I could follow the dictates of my own heart without overstepping the boundaries.”

That was how Confucius defined the stages of a meaningful life. Now, in these modern times, Chinese people still like to draw upon those ancient words of wisdom to judge the country’s development.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up, started by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Many see it as a signal that China by now has no doubt about its destiny – or “what heaven intended” – and that means the only way forward is reform and opening up, whatever ups and downs along the way.

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President Xi Jinping made it clear that was the “chosen path” for China during his recent southern tour.

But 21 years after returning to China under the “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong is still at a relatively young age and in the process of learning before standing on solid ground. Put simply, the city is still feeling its way ahead, which is reflected in all the major controversies relating to its development, politically and economically.

One most-asked question these days is, if Hong Kong has played a unique and instrumental role in connecting China with the world over the past 40 years, where is it now? The answer requires a look at both sides of the border.

On the mainland, it is by no means a rosy picture, especially with the ongoing US-China trade war creating new uncertainties. At home and abroad, President Xi is facing resistance and challenges of all kinds.

His repeated morale-boosting messages to the private sector over the past three weeks constituted a political statement of determination to deepen reform, but also revealed the severity of the economic situation.

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Private businesses account for 60 per cent of China’s gross domestic product and 80 per cent of jobs. No wonder the two consecutive Politburo meetings in July and late October identified “job stabilisation” as the top priority.

It is against such a backdrop that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor next week will lead a big delegation comprising heavyweights from different sectors to join Beijing’s 40th anniversary commemoration of reforms. President Xi is very likely to meet the delegates and thank Hong Kong for its contribution over the past decades, but more importantly, also to express the central government’s hopes and expectations for the city’s future role.

Interestingly, instead of heading directly to Beijing, the delegation will first visit Shenzhen. The official reason is simple: being the trailblazer for the country’s major reform, Shenzhen has a long history of cooperation with Hong Kong.

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But the recent opening of the mega bridge linking Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau, officiated by Xi, unfortunately reminded many in our neighbouring metropolis of how it was shut out from this massive infrastructure project.

Hong Kong rejected the idea of extending the bridge to Shenzhen for various considerations. Shenzhen, as a result, sped up its own transport network development to connect with the rest of the country by land, sea and air.

Meanwhile, Beijing is now asking local governments to submit a new round of concrete economy-boosting initiatives, especially those in the “Greater Bay Area”. It has been reported that some of their proposals were turned back and they were asked to resubmit them with more “deepened and comprehensive” measures.

That is said to have left Shenzhen and the rest of Guangdong province “scratching their heads” on how to come up with better ideas.

Hong Kong is going through its own stages of life, and hopefully will not have to do too much head scratching to find a meaningful role.

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