Hong Kong’s future: a bridge from China to Southeast Asia | This Week In Asia

Hong Kong has long been at the forefront of globalisation, exposed and vulnerable to its disruptive forces; a bellwether city struggling to stay ahead of an ever-changing curve.

Yet its importance is too often relegated to a mere footnote in the grand scheme of regional analysis. Take the Asia Development Bank (ADB) 2050 report, for example. This report envisages the emergence of seven economic stars to lead Asia’s rise: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. But it does not mention Hong Kong.

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One can understand why it has been excluded. By the turn of the half-century, the “one country, two systems” agreement that guaranteed Hong Kong’s capitalist economic and political system for 50 years after the handover from Britain in 1997 will have expired. Hong Kong’s economy will be regarded merely as a part of the wider Chinese economy and any mention of it might therefore seem redundant.

But there are two problems with the ADB’s vision.

Firstly, in failing to mention Hong Kong, it encourages the belief that the city is no longer an important economic player in its own right, only when it is working in tandem with mainland China.

Secondly, it overstates the importance of China and understates the importance of Southeast Asia. It regards China as the key economic player; Southeast Asia as merely an appendage.

In fact, the fortunes of China and Southeast Asia are interlinked. What’s more, for these enmeshed partners to function properly they need Hong Kong – and not merely as a middle man, as has traditionally been the case – but as a strategic pivot that enables them to leverage each other’s strengths by using the city’s legal and financial systems.

The ADB mentions that, in 2010, the seven economies had a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of…

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