Across Continents

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Reflections on Hong Kong

January 14th, 2011

Part of China it might be, but Hong Kong remains de facto a separate – I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest independent – nation. Passport control. Immigration. Chose to fly there from mainland China and it’s classed as an international flight. You’d be hard pressed to tell otherwise.

Kowloon - web

With its order, sophistication, all the facets of a developed nation, Hong Kong is what the rest of China wants to be. Materially, I’d imagine that’d be possible in perhaps fifty years or so. Politically? Bit more tricky. For parity in the tolerance of dissenting views, likely to be closer to a century away.

I’d been quite surprised to discover how much open space there was in Hong Kong. True, not in the centre, around Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. But, out in the New Territories. Extensive trails. Campsites. Backpacking country. Not an obvious choice of destination for a trekking holiday. But a good one nevertheless.

Hong Kong, I was assured, hadn’t changed that much in the days since the hand back to China in Ninety Seven. I’d felt pleased about this. For, if what I had seen was largely a colonial legacy, then it was something to be proud about. Never been an apologist for the Empire.

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Glimpse back in time?

October 31st, 2010

Workers drawn from the countryside into the cities, helping power the industrial machine. Some in dormitories, others in vast housing complexes. Attracted by the prospects of better wages. Ever growing disparity between rural communities and the expanding urban sprawl. A time for entrepreneurs. And a rising middle class. Railways now the transport for the masses. Shipping the avenue to new markets overseas. And the means to import raw materials to satisfy an insatiable appetite for growth.

A glimpse back in time? England during the Industrial Revolution? Quite possibly. But no. China today. A nation undergoing significant social, economic and, to a lesser extent, political change. Some differences. Where we built canals, they’re investing in a huge, modern road network. And a pace of change beyond comprehension a few centuries ago.

But what of China’s imperial aspirations, the British Industrial Revolution being so closely wedded to the rise of its own Empire? More subtle perhaps, less of the gunboat diplomacy, but some striking similarities nevertheless. No straight lines on maps admittedly. Rather agreements reached with poorer nations, mostly African. Securing natural resources – coal and ore for example – solely for export to China. Feeding the machine.

Africans - web

In return, infrastructure projects, advisors to provide assistance to developing nations. Even the teaching of Mandarin to Government officials. As I’d discovered at one of my stops in central China. Struggling a bit with the cold. But most of all political influence. Binding these countries ever closer to Beijing.

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