Hong Kong risks losing status as international financial centre if Beijing fails to protect city's core values, says foundation head

SCMP | News | Hong Kong |  Politics | by Tony Cheung

Tsim Tak-lung of Project Citizens Foundation says the Hong Kong government must also do more to heal the political divide

Beijing must help preserve Hong Kong’s core values such as the rule of law and press freedom or the city will cease to be an important international financial centre, the head of a group set up by former officials and professionals warned.

Tsim Tak-lung, chairman of the Project Citizens Foundation, also criticised the Hong Kong government for doing too little to heal the city’s political divide, which worsened after an electoral reform package was voted down last year.

Tsim called for the city’s officials to safeguard Hong Kong’s characteristics under Beijing’s “one country, two systems” principle, under which the city’s capitalist systems and way of life should not change for 50 years after the 1997 handover.

The foundation was created last year by former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, lawyer Cheung Yuk-tong and writer Tsim to promote civic participation.

There has been much debate about Hong Kong’s political and economic ties with the mainland in recent months. In February, the US think tank, Heritage Foundation, said Hong Kong remained the world’s freest economy for the 22nd consecutive year. But this month, ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Hong Kong’s long-term debt outlook, citing the city’s reliance on trade amid a slowdown on the mainland.

Tsim said “Moody’s downgrade ... highlighted the fact that Beijing really needs to let Hong Kong [develop under] ‘two systems’. If you insist on the country’s authority, Hong Kong cannot continue to be an international financial centre.”

He explained that the rule of law, press freedom and political stability were crucial to Hong Kong’s international position, but there were worries about whether these core values were being eroded.

“We need a stable political environment, but if [officials] often pick fights and worsen division both inside and outside the legislature, ratings agencies will say there is something wrong with us,” Tsim said. He also believed observers overseas could be concerned about Hong Kong’s stability after the violent clashes between protesters and police officers in Mong Kok last month.

“Our leader and his cabinet need to have a good understanding about financial matters, and that if we challenge the ‘two systems’, we are challenging our own status as a financial hub,” Tsim said.

He believed that Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who was praised by lawmakers for the conciliatory message in his recent budget speech, could be a better leader than Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Tsang would speak at a financial forum hosted by the foundation next month, Tsim said.

But Tsim said that whoever won the chief executive election next year, society would need reconciliation.

“I don’t think the social conflicts can continue like this ... and those in authority should take the initiative,” Tsim said.