At the height of its trading and shipping prowess, the Republic of Venice was arguably the most commercially successful place in the world. Its advantageous location at the western end of the traditional silk road, its shipping connections to multiple great trading routes to Asia and its vital role as Europe’s major trading port of entry helped to make Venice both a prosperous and pleasant society.
Unfortunately for the Venetians, the opening up of Atlantic trading routes in the late 15th century and the rise of new commercial/military powers in both Europe and west Asia lead to the small Republic’s eventual decline. Venice’s fall from geo-economic importance was gradual but by the time the Republic of Venice had ceased to be in the age of Napoleon, the wider world had long moved on.
Before China’s Reform and Opening Up, before the rise of Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, before Japan’s post-war recovery and South Korea’s economic miracle there was Hong Kong. As Britain became ever less interested in the world “east of Suez”, Hong Kong was politically a relic of a bygone age but its internal economic development took the world by storm.
The rise of Hong Kong to the position of a major financial and trading centre owed much to the same innovative and hard working Chinese characteristics that transformed the mainland after 1978. Indeed, by the late 1970s both Hong Kong and the former British colony of Singapore were small places whose economic weight began to embarrass those in a Britain that looked all together broken during that same period in time.
When Hong Kong was reunited with the rest of China in 1997, its economic dynamism continued and indeed still continues to play an important part in a China that now has at least a dozen economic super-cities. But as the world continues to change, recent extremist protests in Hong Kong have demonstrated that some Hong Kong people are interested in looking to an imagined past rather than adapting to the future.
Whether calling for the internationally discredited and woefully unpopular liberalism that has been shunned even in the places of its conception (think Britain’s Brexit and America’s Trump), holding a colonial era flag amid a desecrated legislative chamber or attacking fellow Chinese from other parts of the vast country, the petty obscurantist parochialism of the Hong Kong protesters is not only bad for present day business but it is bad for Hong Kong’s long term future growth and development.
Whilst Venice was in many ways too small to adapt to a changing Europe and whilst its small size prohibited it from competing militarily with larger rivals, Hong Kong as part of the world’s second largest economy and a nuclear armed military superpower has some distinct advantages over the Republic of Venice in its final centuries.
Hong Kong’s reunification with the rest of China offered it opportunities to transform itself from a potentially isolated city within a moribund British empire into one of many Chinese super-cities that each have a cooperative role to play within the large and harmonious framework that is the People’s Republic of China.
The one country – two systems model has allowed Hong Kong to receive the economic and military protection of being part of a global superpower whilst also retaining its unique Republic of Venice like local characteristics.
It is therefore nothing short of absurd that short sighted and non-thinking protesters should wish to violently drag Hong Kong towards a fate that befell the Republic of Venice due to long term external pressures and aggression. Whilst the Republic of Venice was murdered, Hong Kong is looking ever more suicidal.
If it is really the dream of some in Hong Kong to be an isolated and ignored entity living off a combination of limited internal productivity and western “charity” (foreign “charity” that as always will come at the expense of political and cultural sovereignty), then such people are not only lawless but are clueless. No country in the world can or would ever seek to commit acts of aggression against China in a fight to restore Hong Kong to its erstwhile status as part of a British Empire which no longer exists.
To imagine Hong Kong as some sort of semi-independent western satellite state would be to presuppose that in the 21st century, the nations of the world are prepared to defy law and logic in recognising not one, not two but three Chinas.
As such, whilst China would never allow foreign aggression against any part of its territory including Hong Kong, China cannot help if Hong Kong starts to be seen as an ageing tiger of yesterday in the eyes of foreign investors. Whilst Lee Kuan Yew left a legacy in his city-state of Singapore which taught future generations the importance of pragmatism and economic evolution, the protesters of Hong Kong have not learned either lesson, nor have they learned properly from the positive world changing Reform and Opening Up of the mainland.
Hong Kong will surely not “fall” to a modern day Napoleon, but part of Hong Kong’s own frenzied population seems intent on sinking Hong Kong’s economic fortunes even more rapidly than today’s economically unimportant museum like city of Venice is literally sinking before the eyes of the world.