Typhoon Usagi, the biggest and scariest tropical storm to threaten anywhere in the whole solar system in decades, did little more than dump a ton of rain on Hong Kong. Yet people did pointless things like put tape on windows and strip supermarket shelves bare of bread and other foodstuffs they must now use up before it gets stale. Perhaps it helps them feel they are somehow in control when in fact they are at the mercy of nature. After all, typhoons do sometimes deliver on their threats.
Unlike Shanghai’s much-vaunted free-trade zone. Only the gullible have taken this latest variant of the Shanghai-to-take-over-from-Hong-Kong concept seriously, and even their expectations seem to be fading from “punch a gaping hole in the country’s currency wall” to facing the reality that the FTZ will not even have bonded warehouses for settlement of commodities futures contracts. Until the Chinese Communist Party is ready to allow rule of law and let foreign markets decide the PRC’s exchange or interest rates, poor old Shanghai will, at best, get a few privileges that suck some business away from other Mainland localities. (“Looking like a global financial centre has been easier than behaving like one.”)
So you’ve got this flashy free-trade zone proposal, and nothing to use it for: can you find some other purpose for it, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time? Indeed you can. Last week, we saw several important figures announce that the Shanghai FTZ was going to crush Hong Kong’s economy unless the Big Lychee’s people stopped being pissed off about dreadful governance. It is easy to see why no-one taped up the windows or grabbed six months’ supply of noodles at Park N Shop in response to this absurdity. The threat is not merely empty but illogical: ‘Shanghai FTZ could damage Hong Kong economically, but it won’t if you start being happy’.
AFP now make this into a story, which then turns up around the world, including Taiwan, where many people are especially alert to reports about the Chinese Communists threatening to bludgeon dissatisfied citizens into blissful acceptance.
Presumably, this mini-tragedy of spin goes back to Beijing’s Hong Kong affairs boss Wang Guangya. As part of a continuing series of attempts to drive a wedge between the Hong Kong masses and the evil, foreign-controlled subversives behind the pro-democracy Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, he decides to play the Shanghai FTZ card, enlisting such luminaries as tycoon Li Ka-shing to join him in a quick PR campaign to shock us into obedience and contentment.
If the threat were real, it would be pathetic. As it is, it’s hollow and pathetic. Oddly, Beijing itself – repeatedly appointing Hong Kong governments that favour the parasitical property and tourism industries over the interests of the city’s people – is the cause of the disgruntlement it fears so much. But obviously it’s too much to expect anyone in the power structure up there or down here to get their head around that. Meanwhile, we’ve just got a few puddles to mop up.