October 19th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Greta Thunberg: she's not doing it all on her own

EDITORIAL Time for Australia to rethink the neo-liberal experiment

RURAL AFFAIRS Queensland Labor punishes farmers to placate UNESCO

CANBERRA OBSERVED Morrison's 'positive' globalism has resonance

NSW ABORTION ACT Amendments annul some of the Act's worst excesses

GENDER POLITICS Doctors call for inquiry into childhood gender dysphoria

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong's 'software' may be key to its survival

GENDER POLITICS Pornography and the transgender agenda

RIGHTS & FREEDOMS Transgenderism poses biggest threat to religious freedom

OPINION When Maggie (Sanger) met Mickie (Mann)

PHILOSOPHY The element of justice in economic practice, Part 2 of two parts

POPULATION Lifestyles and policies ensure population peril ahead

HUMOUR If atheism is the answer, what was the question?

MUSIC Good, better, Bach: The composer who consistently outdid himself

CINEMA Joker: From a heart in darkness

BOOK REVIEW Hope, more than economics, drives Trump voters

BOOK REVIEW A pushback against visceral unreason


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Hong Kong's 'software' may be key to its survival

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, October 19, 2019

The South China Morning Post was once one of the most reputable newspapers in Asia. It was known for its high standards of journalism and commitment to factual accuracy. When it editorialised on a subject, readers took notice.

The Hong Kong protests are a battle between
the rule of law, which is HK’s “software”,
and the rule of lawlessness that is Beijing.

There was an old joke in Hong Kong: “there are 6 million people in Hong Kong and only 100,000 of them matter.” The ones who mattered read the South China Morning Post, as they had done since 1903, when the newspaper was founded. The paper is now owned by the Alibaba group, a mainland Chinese technology group, in the pocket of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The South China Morning Post went through a number of changes of ownership. It was once owned by Rupert Murdoch. I went through Hong Kong frequently, and read the paper regularly. I was rather bemused by one editorial that stated that “what matters to Hong Kong is its software”. After some thought, I realised that that was correct.

It is undoubtedly true. Why? Hong Kong has no natural resources apart from its harbour and its location, making it the natural entrepot port of South China. What makes Hong Kong unique? Is it its software?

The British gave Hong Kong little enough but at least it gave it the rule of law. Hong Kong law is based on British Admiralty law. The courts have an enviable reputation for being incorruptible, and decisions are enforced. This means people can do business with confidence that their interests will be protected and contracts will be honoured. That is Hong Kong’s “software”.

It is well known that the courts in mainland China are merely instruments of the CCP. The courts exist to pursue the policies of the CCP. Some 99.9 per cent of accused people who are bought to trial are found guilty there. The initial stimulus of the rebellion against Beijing’s rule was the proposal that Hong Kong people could be extradited to mainland China to stand trial.

 Of course, things have gone well beyond that, from opposition to one piece of legislation to a rebellion against the rule of the CCP.

Hong Kong is a city-state of 6 million people, at the southern end of a nation of 1.37 billion. It has survived because it is useful to China. If Hong Kong is no longer useful to China, it will perish. That is why Beijing’s endgame is important. If Hong Kong’s software is impaired, Hong Kong’s utility as an entrepot between China and the world will be destroyed.

It is not yet clear how Chinese President Xi Jinping will react to continued disturbances.

Up until recently, the Hong Kong Police were respected and their presence was relatively benign. Recently, things have deteriorated. The police have begun using live ammunition against protestors. It seems that the police, presumably acting on orders, have been ratcheting up their response to the protestors, most of whom are students. It is most unlikely that the police would respond to the protesters without “rules of engagement”.

Of course, Hong Kong is very useful to China’s leadership.  It is a convenient conduit out of China for “black money”. Influential people in China have business interests in Hong Kong that could be damaged if Hong Kong falls to pieces.

President Xi is not a man of limitless patience. As “President for life”, he wants to make his mark on history. He is also a nationalist who does not look favourably on the people of Hong Kong, who cohabited with the enemy for 200 years. Many Hong Kong people even look on the British colonial era with nostalgia.

Just how the endgame plays out will be crucial to Hong Kong’s future. The authorities seem to have lost control of the situation and HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam is little more than a figurehead. If the crisis can be resolved peacefully, Hong Kong’s software may survive. If not, it may cease to be of utility to China.

If tensions continue to escalate, Beijing will consider a military option. Beijing doesn’t really care what the world thinks about its actions, but the regime does care what the people of China think. Xi would hope to avoid a replay of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, if only because China is one of the most gadget-addicted societies on earth and news and pictures would soon spread.

More likely would be the deployment of the People’s Liberation Army Police (PLAP), a para-military force used to quell domestic unrest, using tactics short of lethal force. PLAP troops have been training in Shenzhen, a major urban centre close to Hong Kong.

Of Hong Kong’s population of 6 million, a high proportion is well educated and well off. If push comes to shove, the students can’t hope to defeat the PLAP.

Hong Kong Island is one of the world’s great financial centres, but it relies on a culture of civility and the rule of law. If the software of the rule of law gets corrupted, it will be the end of Hong Kong’s role as China’s entrepot.

It is impossible to be optimistic about Hong Kong. All we can do is hope that Beijing does not unleash the PLAP against the people of Hong Kong.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm