Hong Kong’s International Status: No Longer a Middleman

Photo source: Nikkei Asian Review

Citation: Hak Yin Li, “Hong Kong’s international status: No longer a middleman”, EAI Background Briefs 1452 (2019): 1-14.

Executive Summary

1. Hong Kong’s international status has a special place in the international community as it has been a middleman between China and the West since the 1950s.

2. In the past, China adopted the “long-term consideration, full utilisation” (Changqi Dasuan, Chongfen Liyong) policy of turning Hong Kong into an international channel for importing various necessities and materials as well as trading with other countries.

3. From the Western perspective, Hong Kong was a platform for observing, studying and comprehending China, an important place for American intelligence service and a Western strategic financial centre in Asia.

4. However, Hong Kong’s international status has been challenged by the increase in influence from Beijing after the handover. Hong Kong is no longer a middleman for its inclination to side Beijing in order to serve Chinese national interests.

5. Hong Kong has been used by China to conduct public diplomacy and present diplomatic signals to foreign countries through means that can be classified as semiofficial and non-official channels.

6. Former chief executive of Hong Kong and now the vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Tung Chee Hwa has utilised China-US Exchange Foundation to conduct Chinese public diplomacy.

7. China has used American naval port visits to Hong Kong, ice-breaking meeting between Chinese and Philippine delegates in Hong Kong as well as the seizure of Singapore’s armoured vehicles in Hong Kong as various diplomatic gestures to the outside world at the semi-official level.

8. The cases of Edward Snowden and Patrick Ho suggest that Chinese influence has prevailed over the Hong Kong government at the non-official level. The Hong Kong government did not cooperate with the United States on the former case, while Hong Kong ex-officials are involved in Chinese public diplomacy and acting in Chinese interests.

9. All evidences show that Hong Kong has no bargaining power vis-a-vis the Chinese government. The Basic Law offers Beijing institutional strength to manage Hong Kong’s foreign and military affairs, while China’s emerging economic capability has turned the dependency relations from Hong Kong to China.

10. As long as Hong Kong can maintain the rule of law and free flow of information, it can differentiate itself from Shanghai or Shenzhen and prolong its special international status. The question is not about what the Hong Kong administration could do, but whether the Chinese government can leave Hong Kong alone.

EAI Background Briefs are policy-oriented research papers circulated to government. They are available for reference in National Library or NUS Library.