The Suitcases Of Hong Kong

By

Leonard Zwelling

It’s a huge and busy city with skyscrapers to match those of Manhattan including the Batman Building from which Christian Bale caught a plane and a crook. Some streets are so packed with people that one can barely walk. The shops are both on the street as storefronts and within huge interior malls packed to the gills with brand names from Chanel to Cartier. But it was the fact that seemingly every tenth young woman, and a few young men, were wheeling suitcases down the streets that had us baffled. Surely they couldn’t all have deplaned, taken the train into town from Lantau Island, and were walking to their hotels. Our guide the first day on our tour of Hong Kong let us know.

Let me digress.

In 1842, after the Opium Wars when the British fought the Chinese occupants of Hong Kong to allow the importation of opium from its colony in India, Hong Kong was under British rule. The war was precipitated because of the huge trade imbalance Britain had accumulated with China. China was selling Britain tea. Britain wasn’t selling China anything. Then came opium.

That’s the way it was from 1842 until 1997. That year, under agreement, Hong Kong attained a unique status called SAR—Special Administrative Region. It’s oversight passed to the Communist Chinese government of the People’s Republic, but in actuality it remained an entity onto itself. It was not beholden to the policies of the PRC, but there was pretty free flow of people across the border with many Mainland Chinese families immigrating to Hong Kong if they were fortunate. But even the citizens of the PRC can get here pretty easily on short-stay visas. And they do. To shop. That’s what the suitcases are for. What they buy. The prices all seem high to us, but I guess not so much for the people in Communist China and they do have a taste for luxury goods.

Fortunately, you don’t have to shop to enjoy Hong Kong. It is a beautiful city with a magnificent harbor visible from the Kowloon peninsula side (attached to the Mainland) where we stayed as well as from Hong Kong Island, the oldest part of the city. There is also Lantau Island where the airport is located and all the land surrounding Kowloon called the New Territories plus hundreds of small islands. Many people have to live in the New Territories as the rents in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island have become prohibitive as many wealthy Chinese drive the real estate prices beyond the reach of the average citizen of Hong Kong.

That brings me back to the overriding lesson of our two trips to Asia. We heard it in Vietnam and Cambodia and now in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Beware of China. Their 1.4 billion people are welcomed in these spots because their tourism dollars are needed, but they are welcome on no other plane. Every place we go we hear complaints. They are loud. They are rude. They are entitled.

This echoes what is happening in the U.S. as academic institutions put constraints on interactions with several lands in Asia primarily based on the fear of theft of intellectual property by agents of the Chinese government. There are now English proficiency tests for Chinese wishing to study in America. U.S. computers and cell phones are specially outfitted for use in the Far East by faculty traveling to China, in particular. There is a genuine sense that the region and the U.S. are engaged in a Cold War with Communist China and this has become a serious constraint on relations between the various countries here and back home when dealing with the PRC.

I usually do not agree with Donald Trump on much, but he is right to sound the alarm with regard to the unfair trade practices of the Chinese. I am not sure I agree with English proficiency tests for those wishing to study in the U.S. What if France or Germany or Israel did that to us? I do understand the fear that has been placed in the hearts of people in Saigon, Taipei and Hong Kong when it comes to dealing with the Mainland Chinese. Let’s hope this can be worked out. We don’t need a trade war or any other kind of conflict between the Chinese and the rest of the world. These conflicts tend to turn out badly, for the invaders and for the Chinese.

Leonard Zwelling