A quarter of East Asians have a genetic predisposition to suffer badly from flu, scientists say. Perhaps the researchers can next try to identify another hereditary trait found among a small but influential segment of the region’s people: compulsive agonizing about civic status.
One manifestation of the condition is ‘hub syndrome’. Hong Kong’s policymakers over the last 15 years have been tragic victims, obsessing about turning the city into a centre for every buzzword-theme from Chinese medicine to logistics to cruise ships to education to arbitration to the inevitable tech to endless dozens of others.
Jealous and vain counterparts on the Mainland are just as badly afflicted. Shenzhen wants to turn its Qinghai piece of muddy reclaimed land into the Manhattan of Asia. Across the estuary, Zhuhai’s Hengqin Island has been set to become a shipping, then a tourism, and more recently a gosh-how-original high-tech hub. And up the Pearl River, Guangzhou has been long been planning to turn the wastes of Nansha into a world-class commercial, logistics and services zone.
During the 2000s, it was almost impossible to avoid at least a weekly conference at which Pearl River Delta municipal figures would take it turns to show the audience a Powerpoint presentation. In each case, their city was to be the ‘dragonhead’, while the town next door would be the blah-blah centre, and the county up there would be the whatever zone, and Hong Kong would provide lots of cooperation and partnership. Nowhere in the region would not be a dragonhead or a hub. And it’s not just the south. Tianjin, Chongqing, Xiamen are all at it. Up in Shanghai they are, as ever, about to overtake Hong Kong, this time as a free-trade zone with every amazing world-class, international, global, cross-border advantage, you can be sure.
When not trying to turn humdrum urban sprawl into gleaming clusters of wealth-creation by decree, the obsessive-compulsive city-builders of Asia work on the principle that more equals better. The more people, trucks, ships, containers, tourists and buildings you cram into a given space, the mightier and more prosperous it will be.
Hong Kong’s previous Chief Executive Donald Tsang said that the Big Lychee needed a population of 10 million to compete as a financial centre (the additional 3 million people all being bankers, you understand). Needless to say, he didn’t get the job done. Instead, it is left to legislator, inheritor of a textiles fortune and tourism lobbyist James Tien to demand that we cram more, more, more and more human beings into every little crack and crevice in our high-rise concrete maze. In particular, he wants imported labour and, most of all, lots and lots of lovely tourists. You can never have too many tourists, only a shortage of tourist facilities, which need to be built on prime real estate at taxpayers’ expense. If Hongkongers keep refusing to see the wisdom of this – if ‘hostility continues’ – he warns, Mainland tourists will turn their back on the city and head to Paris.
To show us how it’s done, megalomaniac planners in Singapore’s National Eugenic Hygiene Directorate proudly present: the Lion uber-City, where locals who refuse to breed fast enough will be shoved aside into reservations to make way for several million young, energetic and obedient foreigners, carefully selected for their willingness to mate with university graduates. Already blessed with taxi-drivers trained to tell overseas visitors about the world’s cleanest streets and number-one container terminal, Lee Kuan Yew’s gift to humanity will gain its 6.9 million population target and thus be assured its 1,000 years of magnificence.