Global Radar Screen
Imperative of Transiting to the ‘Trading State’
The current seemingly implosive crisis in Hong Kong helps to put the spotlight on issues of the utmost importance to the political theorist, such as the conceptualization of state types, besides reminding us of the continuing urgency of the question of national self-determination. While the ‘nation state’ has come to be seen almost universally as an accomplished fact, developments in Hong Kong remind us, among other things, of the considerable difficulty in attempting to pin down and define state types in a clear-cut fashion.
The world has been given to understand over the past few months that democratic freedoms are at the centre of the mounting unrest in Hong Kong. Among other things, the Hong Kong protesters are on the war path with their local authorities and with China for the greater democratization of the entrepot state, which is seen as a vibrant financial hub in South East Asia, the world’s ‘economic power house’.
The impression is inescapable that the process of national self-determination never got off in great earnest in Hong Kong, since it had been a colony of Britain formerly and a semi -autonomous subject of China after 1997, although it acquired an enviable degree of economic vibrancy and strength over the years. The general pattern with regard to political development in the global South is for the states concerned to first win political autonomy or independence and then take on the task of economic development.
This process is in reverse in Hong Kong. Having acquired economic growth to a degree initially, it is now seeking more and more democratic freedoms and even total political independence. It would seem that the acquiring of economic robustness and growth is vetting the desire of the people of Hong Kong for complete political self-determination and independence.
Based on the above developments the observer is compelled to state in reference to Hong Kong that contrary to the general trend in the South, she has achieved a degree of economic independence and is, on the basis of this solid material foundation, seeking political self-determination. Hong Kong is, therefore, bucking the trend. Accordingly, Hong Kong refuses to be neatly conceptualized on the question of political evolution. One wonders what political pundits would have to say on this seeming conceptual confusion.
The above complexity is further compounded by the belief in some quarters that Hong Kong is heading in the direction of a ‘Police State’ or a ‘Military State’. In the case of mainland China proving inflexible, there could be increasing state repression to rein in the protests, resulting eventually in the drastic curtailing of civil liberties along with the state continuously wielding a strong coercive apparatus over the public. That is, we would likely have a ‘Police State’ or a ‘National Security State’ if the authorities refuse to budge from wielding the ‘big stick’.
Some fears over an emerging ‘Police State’ have been expressed by US Senator Josh Hawley, for instance, who was in Hong Kong recently and saw the unrest and state security forces’ reactions for himself. The Senator called on the US to take China to task for seeming governmental repression in the city state, very urgently.
However, the Chinese authorities would have none of this. Reacting to the Hong Kong situation Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted saying: ‘Anyone who attempts to split any region from China will perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder….Any external forces that support the splitting of China can only be regarded as delusional by the Chinese people.’
Thus, a confrontational approach by external actors in HK, such as the US, could result in the US militarily pitting itself at some point against China. The result could be disastrous for these big powers, for HK and the region.
The above considerations are likely to compel the powers involved to consider political approaches to winding down the HK crisis. Besides, this is not a juncture in the affairs of the world when major powers, such as China and the US, would plunge headlong into military confrontations. The consequences would be grave for both quarters considering that very much is at stake for all sides involved. For example, the economic fallout for the sides from such conflicts would be far too much to bear. Accordingly, although the evolving situation needs to be watched with some anxiety it is unlikely that the world would see anything more than ‘sabre-rattling’ from the main parties.
Although sections of political science scholarship are likely to find political developments in HK conceptually baffling, there could be no doubt on the importance of economic forces in the shaping of the current international order. Already, the US and China have opted for a truce of sorts in their confrontation on the trading front. This is primarily because both sides are incurring economic losses from this stand-off; for example, huge job lay-offs are on the increase.
Those protesting in HK may themselves consider negotiating an end to the crisis in the foreseeable future. The drastic economic downturn in the state since the crisis began is the main reason. Already there is a ‘flight of capital’ from HK to regional economic giants, such as, Singapore. This ‘flight’ is already noticeable in the area of real estate investments in HK. It is unlikely that the ‘iron laws of economics’ could be ignored for long.
However, world -wide, economic forces are demonstrating the high degree to which they count in the affairs of countries. Right across South Asia, for example, an economic decline is beginning to manifest itself. Already, the World Bank has warned of an economic slowdown in South Asia of 5.9 per cent in 2019. There is unlikely to be an economic rebound in the short term. The inference to be drawn is that the world cannot gloss over economics for the sake of politics. World -wide recession could be an end result of the international community continuing to ignore economic realities.
If wise counsel is to prevail, there would be an international consensus of opinion on the principal importance of the ‘Trading State’ in the affairs of the world. That is, states should, ideally, cast all other considerations aside for the sake of building international trade and seeking out markets. Economic realities would likely hit states in the face and propel them in the direction of economic pragmatism.