Hong King’s chief executive, Donald Tsang wants Hong Kong to become a cultural capital, one to rival New York.
Interviewed by The Australian’s Michael Sainsbury (“King of the hill” 18/12) in what was Government House in colonial days, he said that Hong Kong’s great advantage is the civil institutions left by the British when they departed in 1997. Mr. Sainsbury observes that this is ironical in a country which loathes its colonial past.
“The major difference is that constitutionally we are not part of China,” Donald Tsang says.
“We have a new relationship, and accountability goes back to Beijing. But we have full autonomy. The only two areas where we do not have autonomy are foreign affairs, which is none of my business, and defence, which is none of my business.
“We have the advantage of geography and the advantage of nationality and it is to Hong Kong’s real advantage that we are connected there. In terms of way of life Hong Kong hasn’t changed, in terms of the preservation of human rights, independent judiciary and economics, as exemplified by our convertibility of currency, all these things are progressing.”
Tsang purrs that “Hong Kong is just a little thing on the eastern fringe of the nation. Of course it’s a very powerful one, that’s all”.
…the common law….
Mr.Tsang told Michael Sainsbury he believes that Hong Kong’s point of difference comes down to one simple thing – the fact that it operates on a common-law system.
“This is essential for a financial system,” he says.
“Why in Europe do they have to do all their transactions in London – which is not Euro-land – and why not in Frankfurt or Paris? Eventually you trace it to one single difference: the practice of common law. They do it in London, in New York and Sydney, but not in Shanghai.”
Tsang says it was “an accident of history” that the place came under British rule, but he believes it has created a difference in the way Hong Kong residents look at themselves.
“There is much more importance attached to the freedom of the person in Hong Kong,” he says, in a clear attempt to distance the place from the Communist mainland.
“It’s a trade-off between personal freedom and patriotic duties. In Hong Kong we still have a lot to learn. National priorities do not usually come to our agenda.”
But he argues that when there is a calamity in China, such as the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Hong Kong is the most generous community.
…if only Argentina had Australia's institutions . …
The Hong Kong experience is not an isolated example. Countries which have inherited or adopted British institutions typically perform well.
Those which have maintained the plenitude of British institutions do very well. Examples are Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
I mentioned Argentina in the heading because at the time of the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, Australia and Argentina were the world’s richest countries.
But the twentieth century history of Argentian has been one of instability, periods of brutal dictatorship, and economic decline.
Apsrt from her unwise war against Britain over the Falklands, Argentina played no active role in the World Wars, which should have put her well ahead of Australia economically.
It did not, except perhaps briefly after the Second World War.
As a former minister in Argentina's Menem government observed on the ABC’s Four Corners programme in 2002, the two countries are similar.
But, he said, there is one important difference:
“Australia has British institutions. If Argentina had such strong institutions she would be like Australia in ten or twenty years”: The Twilight of The Elites, 2003, pp 42-45
Australians should bear this in mind when they hear and read the pleas of those who would trash our constitutional system, without even revealing to the people what form their replacement politicians' republic will take,
And Australians may well wonder why there is little mention of the origin of our instiutions in the national history curriculum: History curriculum disaster.
What is going on in our country?