For weeks we have been told that some rich Hong Kong businessmen are colluding with overseas organisations to perpetrate the manifest untruth that our city should not be regarded as part of China.
Names and details were not forthcoming… until last week, when The Standard named them. The two gentlemen involved in this nefarious plot were Mr George Leung Siu-kay and Mr Mohamed Butt. They are respectively the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Productivity Council.
They have urged the Hong Kong government to appeal to the World Trade Organisation, clearly an external body within the meaning of the national security law, against the notion that Hong Kong is part of China.
It is also suggested that the International Organisation for Standardisation should be involved in the dispute, which revolves round the question whether goods manufactured in Hong Kong should be described as “Made in Hong Kong”, or “Made in China”. The “Made in Hong Kong” label was traditional, but some people overseas now wish to see it replaced by “Made in China”.
The two plotters concerned wish to continue with the “Made in Hong Kong” label. No doubt some confusion has arisen as to what the patriotic line on this topic should be, because the new requirement that Hong Kong manufactures should be described as “Made in China” comes not from the People’s Pooh, but from the US government.
Still, have these two gentlemen not been reading the newspapers? Surely it is time for Hong Kong manufacturers to step up to the standards of patriotic enthusiasm now expected of all of us, and wear the “Made in China” label with pride.
I am sure no prudent Hong Kong person would argue that China manufacturers have a reputation for copying, low quality and using slave labour. These slurs are unjustified and unsubstantiated, of course.
Some readers may be surprised to hear that Hong Kong still has any manufacturing industry worth complaining about. It seems that our manufactured exports amount to “only” $3.7 billion worth a year, which seems quite a lot to a lay person but is apparently regarded as trivial in business circles.
However, more than half of those exports consist of jewellery, so there is an industry complaining vocally that this is a matter of life and death.
We must in fairness to Mr Leung and Mr Butt note that there are some inconveniences attached to the introduction of the new arrangements. It seems that, according to the US Customs, our Hong Kong exporters will still be expected to report for some purposes that their wares were made in Hong Kong, which sounds potentially confusing.
Also, exporters were given only 45 days notice of the new arrangements. Because of the delays to shipping caused by the coronavirus, there is some danger of consignments sent before the change arriving after it has come into effect. You would think there would be enough flexibility in the customs procedure to avoid actually having to send these goods back. But we should not under-estimate the rigidity of which bureaucrats are capable.
Well I understand and share the suspicion that the new rules have less to do with the search for accuracy and more to do with one of Mr Trump’s nocturnal Twitter brainwaves. Mr Trump does not seem to have a passionate attachment to truthfulness.
Still, this complaint is hardly going to fly in international circles, I fear. China is not really in a position to urge zealous compliance with World Trade Organisation rules.
And after all, have we not been told on numerous occasions that Hong Kong is part of China? So the new labelling will merely reflect the facts: that the Beijing government enjoys comprehensive sovereignty over Hong Kong, legislates for it when moved to do so, deploys its army and police here, and appoints our senior officials.
Hong Kong now enjoys less autonomy than Texas or Saxony. Regions generally do not have their own “made in …” label anyway. Can we retaliate by insisting that American microchips should have “Made in California” on their labels?
It is true that people are not always rational about these things. But if it is a criminal offence to wave a banner saying “Hong Kong is not China”, as I suppose it is, then surely we can hardly complain if people overseas take us at our word and insist that Hong Kong is part of China, and its exports be labelled accordingly.
No doubt there is something in the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s Future about the territory being allowed to be separate for customs and labelling purposes. But the Joint Declaration, as we have so often been reminded, is a historical document of no practical significance for present purposes.
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