Willy Lam asks whatever happened to ‘One Belt One Road?’ The veteran China-watcher reckons that in recent months the grand concept/theme boondoggle-vision has faded from high-level official Mainland discourse, such as at the National People’s Congress gathering. The people still bleating endlessly about the unfathomable project are out-of-the-loop shoe-shiners like Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung, who devoted his entire January policy address to it.
Lam suggests that Xi Jinping’s dream of covering everything from Kazakhstan to Venice to Sri Lanka in vast, high-speed rail and port networks is (to summarize) an egomaniac’s financial disaster, and is quietly being dropped.
Some evidence that he is on to something comes our way in the form of a new exciting slogan: ‘Smart City’. Unlike ‘Belt and Road’, it does not entail hallucinations about China hijacking half the planet’s infrastructure development plans, but focuses more modestly on the Motherland. But it has all the fun and attraction of ‘Belt and Road’ in that we can all jump up and down in joy about it, even though no-one has a clue what it really means.
According the South China Morning Post, previously unheard-of ‘Smart City’ alliances from the Mainland and Hong Kong are agreeing to do lots of cooperation and partnership and ‘fruitful exchanges’ to promote the mysterious but immensely worthwhile idea. CY apparently proposed using East Kowloon as a ‘pilot area’ for it last year. Mainland Cyberspace Administration boss Xu Lin thinks our Cyberport could serve as an ‘innovation hub’. The guy in charge of our Science Park waves his hand to remind everyone that his little bureaucratic empire has turned up to the show. The Hong Kong ‘Smart City Consortium’ convener grumbles that while the Mainland has 277 pilot areas, we have only one.
Digging deeper to discover the meaning of ‘Smart City’ in practice, I think I know where that one pilot area is: Sceneway Garden in distant Lam Tin. The bus-stop there has a space-age screen telling you how long you will wait before the Number 641 to Central arrives. Actually, even Macau has had this technology – in every neighbourhood – for years, but Sceneway is the only place I’ve seen it in Hong Kong, where ‘innovative’ means ‘benefits residents not property tycoons’.
Next amazing breakthrough in Hong Kong’s ‘Smart City’: having sidewalks wide enough to accommodate the pedestrians.