Commentary: As China’s Leaders Shuffle, Hong Kong Is Ho Hum
China's leadership transfer is more choreographed than a Bolshoi Ballet holiday production of Swan Lake. Before next week is out, Xi Jinping will be President, Li Keqiang will be Premier. It's preordained, preconceived, and the polar opposite of a U.S. election that went down to the wire.
Fifteen years after the handover, Hong Kong is a bit of a paradox. It's part of China, but with increasingly noisy democracy. The city is also feeling a lot less Chinese these days. Last year, a toxic online campaign was waged against invading "locusts" from China, and triggered multiple rounds of discontent. Locals have been protesting PRC neighbors who come here, empty shelves of higher quality consumer goods and clog the border. Nowhere more apparent has the backlash been, than a 15 percent surtax slapped on non-residents who buy property here, a measure clearly aimed at the surfeit of PRC cash that has funneled into the market in recent years, driving up prices.
(Read More: China's New Leaders—Here's the Lineup)
Recent polls have shown that Hong Kong people feel less identity with China than at any time since the 1997 handover. Some small-scale protests in the distinct minority have even been calling for independence, and to back their hankering for the past, seen waving the British flag. The scenes brought a handful of growling dinosaurs out of their Carbonite. Lu Ping, former PRC head of Hong Kong affairs, castigated this rag tag band of protestors, saying they should leave if they hate it so much. His deputy Chen Zuoer, added his voice, claiming that the pro-separatist movement is growing like a virus.
Really? I wonder who's more deluded, these officials, or the protestors. As Richard Harris, the founder of Port Shelter Investments and a long time Hong Kong resident told me, "any Hong Kong person is schizophrenic, he sees China as the motherland, but Hong Kong as Hong Kong. These protestors seen waving the Union Jack are just waving a red flag at the bull."
In other words, even if you're fomenting a ridiculous idea, by provoking your nemesis, you might end up with an entirely stupid discussion.
The reality is China isn't likely to freak out or do anything rash. I asked John Woods, Chief Investment Strategist at Citi Private Bank, what Hong Kong has at stake during this transition. He said the PRC has bigger problems than a tiny place of 7 million people, and that any dramatic departure from the script, would only fuel the activist sentiment that exists.
"Authorities in China are so concerned about the economic transition that's happening, they are likely prompting for conservative, consistent, stable replacements rather than a more reform-minded community", says Woods.
As for the noisy protests in Hong Kong, Harris of Port Shelter says, it's really just noise. In fact, he adds, China has adhered to the letter of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini constitution that lays down a timetable for democratization, and is basically the city's governing doctrine until 2047, when Hong Kong fully integrates with China.
"The PRC sees Hong Kong as docile, hardworking, uncorrupted, and still, a fantastic gateway to the rest of the world….Hong Kong doesn't pollute China," he said.