In her inaugural speech, Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's first female President, urged China to "drop the baggage of history," emphasized the need to reduce economic dependence on the mainland and vowed to safeguard "democracy, freedom and this country." Beijing answered by attacking her not for her positions, but for being a single female politician. Classy move. The Chinese authorities would be well inspired to remember that when it comes to establishing whether Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong is working out for its residents and whether it might work one day for Taiwan, the jury is, at best, still out.
Last week, Zhang Dejiang became the highest-ranking member of the Chinese government to visit Hong Kong since the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution took place nearly two years ago. Extraordinary "counter-terrorist" measures were put in place to ensure he never met with the semi-autonomous city's population, let alone with protesters of all ages, except for a mysterious group of two hundred (mostly) men in suits whose picture was posted on Twitter by the Hong Kong Government. But he did have a message for young people and pro-democracy activists upon departing: "If [we] forego 'one country, two systems,' or forego the Basic Law, Hong Kong will definitely rot."
We beg to differ. The world we live in is, increasingly, organized around cities and regions -- not nation-states. And the truth of the matter is that, when it comes to the competition over global supply chains, energy markets, industrial production, and the flow of finance, technology, knowledge and talent, Hong Kong has become less, not more relevant as a global capital since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Most major German companies made a point of having a strong presence in Berlin until the fall of the Iron Curtain when they all moved back to Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart (the only major German company whose headquarters are still located in the capital, Schering, has all but lost its shine). Similarly, many global companies which made a point of having a strong presence in what was still viewed as the sole true financial capital of South East Asia have in the past twenty years relocated their Asian headquarters either to Shanghai and other major demographic centers of mainland China, to less expensive Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur or to faster-growing, more future-looking and strategically-located Singapore. They have done so because, whether they admit it or not, they have strong doubts about the "one country, two systems" principle. Ensuring that the world truly believes that the unique nature of Hong Kong will be preserved by this principle is very much the Chinese leadership's responsibility. And so far, Beijing is failing.
To be sure, the obsolescence of the nation-state and the city-centric paradigm shift it is provoking are regularly portrayed as a fantasy not just by the Chinese government but by national political leaders worldwide. Our world is still run mostly by baby-boomers for baby-boomers who have a vested interest in the international system and the polity that underpins it, the nation-state. The fact that this polity is hindering youth empowerment is overlooked by a generation reluctant to admit the drift towards irrelevance of the system it grew up in. A tendency to portray post-national youth movements as quixotic and immature, possibly under the influence of "external influences" (other nations) has taken hold in the age of singularity and that of the ever-increasing acceleration of change -- technological, social, political, etc.
We have no allegiance to national governments. Like Star Wars characters, we don't care much about where people come from and what color their skin is. Instead, we are focused on where they are going. We represent an increasingly large number of people worldwide who sense that leaders of constituencies defined solely along national boundaries and world-views are ill-equipped to adequately tackle the issues closest to our hearts: the asphyxiation of our planet, the rise of the police state, the constant rise of inequalities, a general confusion between economic growth and prosperity, the ever-increasing thirst for profit, the cult of the individual, the lack of importance attributed to spiritual development, cooperation and to the fact humans need one another to thrive.
As we see it, addressing these issues is a universal endeavor and their resolution can only be trans- or post-national. As soon as we rise above the fray of nations and embrace our condition as citizens of both local polities and the world, we strengthen our capacity to turn the vicious circle many of us are stuck in into a virtuous one and the world into a beauty contest of regions, cities, companies and organizations (not so much nations) keen on matching our skill set and their development needs. Whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere, we want to be swayed, won over by these entities, not coerced.