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‘Huge mistake’ if China tries to eradicate Hong Kong’s identity, warns Asia scholar

Hong Kong has become a political football between China and the West, according to author and Asia scholar, Kishore Mahbubani.

It would be a “huge mistake” for China to try to eradicate what makes Hong Kong so special, he told an August 10 FCC webinar, and China must act with restraint as the West weighs in on the row over the national security law.

“Hong Kong has become a political football … when players play football they get a lot of fun kicking the ball but after a while the ball breaks down. It’s important for Hong Kong to steer itself out of being a political football as soon as possible,” he said.

Prof Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, said that although Hong Kong was a “piece of treasure” to China, the people of the city “should not force the leaders to choose between the interests of 1.4 billion people in China and 7 million people in Hong Kong”.

When asked if he thought China was trying to eradicate Hong Kong’s culture and identity, Prof Mahbubani warned it would be a “huge mistake” on China’s part.

“Even though the Chinese have tried very hard to get Shanghai to grow as a financial centre, you can see that Shanghai just cannot keep doing what Hong Kong is doing. Hong Kong is really at the end of the day a piece of treasure for China and it will be huge mistake for China to destroy that culture, that separateness.

“For the same reason, I think it’s also a huge mistake in the West – the United States and U.K., and all – to continue using Hong Kong as a political football. It’s in the global interest for Hong Kong to be one step in, one step out as part of the One Country, Two Systems framework. We should globally recognise that it’s good for China, good for the West and good for the rest of the world,” he said.

Prof Mahbubani’s latest book, Has China Won? analyses the tensions between the United States and the world’s second largest economy. In it, he argues that the real question – “one that never surfaces in America” – is whether the United States can lose.

“America has got so used to winning the idea of losing doesn’t come up,” he said, adding that 100 years of growth into the world’s largest economy had made the country complacent. His book, which he said he hoped the Trump and subsequent Administration would read, would help them to “at least think about the possibility of being number two”.

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