Friday, January 8, 2010
Hong Kong - First Impressions
Shane Lively - Lion Rock Institute Intern
My name is Shane Lively and I am an intern with the Lion Rock institute in Hong Kong, China. For a little about my personal background I am Australian and I am from Perth, Western Australia, a town of 1.6 million people. I am 21 years old and I have a Bachelor of Arts from Murdoch University where I majored in political science and criminology in 2009. I have plans for further study later in 2010.
As this is my first trip abroad, I have found that there are many differences between Perth (or Australia in general) and Hong Kong. Coming from Australia I would highlight some of the main differences as being the air quality, the high standard of service, the efficiency and speed of mass transit, and the much higher level of ambient noise, even at midnight. My very first impression that I had of Hong Kong was that I had never seen so many people in my entire life.
Through writing news summaries and reading news articles I felt reminded that Hong Kong enjoys a kind of political freedom that many nations in Asia, and especially Mainland China does not enjoy. I noticed that almost daily the news media seemed to be criticising something that the central government was doing, from the jailing of dissidents to the revelations that state authorities knew about melamine contaminated milk products some time before it was reported in the state media. It seemed to me that there existed in the consciousness of the Hong Kong people an awareness of the precarious basis of which the freedoms lie, between an undemocratic legislative council and an all-powerful central government.
Democracy also seemed to be a recurring theme within news reports. Coming from a western, highly accountable democratic welfare state country, I felt somewhat bemused by what I thought were the unrealistic expectations of many pro democracy groups as a panacea for social problems. It becomes quite evident to anyone living in a democratic country that the democratic process is but one manifestation of popular sovereignty. For example, in many western countries the democratic process has on both leading and opposition sides become an increasingly authoritarian, short term, vote buying exercise, which seeks to advantage interest groups, while using the rhetoric of freedom.
As an outsider looking in, another impression I get from Hong Kong is its truly unique Frankenstein-like system of government. My understanding is that in Hong Kong the political topic of “universal suffrage” refers not to the enfranchisement of the population, but instead the replacement of “functional constituencies” with “geographic ones”. I have not ever heard of any kind of representative system that structurally allows selection committees to elect some representatives to seats that represent corporatized interests rather than geographical populations.
In light of this overt political alienation, Hong Kong seems to enjoy a level of personal freedom, low taxation and judicial independence.
The more time I spend here, the more I learn Hong Kong is the elegant exception to many, many rules.