United States President Donald Trump paid his very first visit to China last week. The Chinese government gave him the grandest reception ever — described as “state visit-plus”.
During his stay in China, Trump, in multiple tweets, expressed gratitude and goodwill toward the host country. The two sides signed bilateral trade and investment deals worth more than $250 billion; while China also announced new measures to further open up financial markets to foreign businesses. All these developments signify China and the US have reached a new phase in updating their major-power relations in the 21st century.
The global distribution of power and the pattern of international relations are undergoing unprecedented and profound readjustments — as the global politico-economic center of gravity continues to shift from West to East. Naturally, Sino-US ties have been the focal point of this epic process. In his first year as president, Trump has already made his country withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change and Trans-Pacific Partnership, in the name of “America First”.
Many experts on international affairs expressed concern that Trump’s unilateral approach to globalization and multilateral efforts in international relations would put US-China relations on a rocky and precarious path. However, most of them breathed a collective sigh of relief after Trump hosted President Xi Jinping at his luxury property Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida in April, and then Xi held a state reception for Trump in the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing last week. Clearly Trump is taking a rational approach to US-China relations.
China’s peaceful rise is a perfect fit with times when no single country or political force — no matter how powerful — can change the course of history.
Coinciding with Trump’s China visit, the cover story of Time magazine in its Nov 13 edition had the title “China won” together with the Chinese words “Zhong Guo Ying Le”. It is the first time the magazine used two languages on its cover. Inside that edition, author Ian Bremmer wrote an article: “How China’s Economy Won the Future”. It argues that China has become the most dynamic economy in the world while the US has been relegated to second place.
Just two days earlier, on Nov 11, celebrated German current affairs weekly Der Spiegel sported a red cover with the bright golden title of “Xing lai” (Awaken) in Pinyin. A 6,000-word article said China possesses a system the West cannot match: A solid long-term plan provides effective guidance for domestic affairs, with the determination to carry it out; and enough flexibility to intervene in international affairs. After three alarming questions asking whether China will completely turn the current world order on its head, the article says the new China that is rising is different from any superpower we have seen so far. It has avoided an ideological confrontation in favor of quiet but effective buildup of its strengths.
The progress China has made in forging a new model of major-power relations with the US will have a significant effect on Hong Kong in many ways.
Firstly, economically speaking, there will be an increase of bilateral trade and the Chinese mainland plans to further open domestic financial markets to foreign businesses. Hong Kong must adjust its financial industry and foreign trade development strategies accordingly. Since the mainland joined the World Trade Organization as a full member, exports through Hong Kong have fallen gradually. China and the US inked $250 billion worth of bilateral trade and investment deals during Trump’s visit which do not involve Hong Kong; the city must step up efforts to bring its own innovation and technology industries up to par with the best in the world. This would boost direct exports of made-in-Hong Kong products and spare parts. The mainland will gradually ease limits on stakes foreign businesses can have in financial firms over the next three to five years — until all limits are gone. This is designed to make domestic financial companies strong on the global market and to become bona fide international players. Hong Kong needs to respond by expanding its own financial markets.
Secondly, when it comes to politics, Hong Kong society should encourage the moderate faction of the opposition camp to abandon radicalism. It should form a “constructive opposition camp” of its own. The “pan-democrats” may have enjoyed moral and financial support from some Western countries since the 1980s but the latter now have their hands full with their own domestic affairs. None of these Western governments support the “pro-independence” faction in Hong Kong, despite separatists receiving assistance from overseas. Given China’s rising status and national strength, its influence in the world will only grow from here on. The general trend of the times is such that no one can survive by going against it. That is why Hong Kong society should encourage open-minded members of the opposition camp to abandon their outdated “anti-central government and anti-communist” prejudices.
During Trump’s visit in Beijing, Xi said the “Pacific Ocean is big enough for China and the US” to coexist peacefully. Many business and professional elites in Hong Kong have overseas connections. They should help enhance friendly relations between China and other countries. To thrive in the new era, Hong Kong needs to change its traditional position in the global economy — from relying mainly on Western markets led by the US and the United Kingdom to completely relying on the motherland by integrating its own development into the country’s overall development while keeping its door open to the rest of the world — as always.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, November 16, 2017)