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Could Hong Kong crisis affect all of Asia?

Lim Menghour / No Comments Share:
Radical protesters attack police officers in Tsuen Wan, in the western New Territories of south China's Hong Kong, Aug. 25, 2019. Radical protesters block various roads, hurl bricks and stones at police officers in the protest. (Xinhua/Lui Siu Wai)

Hong Kong has been critically hit by a series of violent protests and riots since June.

This vibrant city is now faced with a severe political crisis leading to economic slowdown and social unrest.

The crisis started with the introduction of an extradition bill in March.

Critics feared the bill that allows extradition to mainland China could undermine the city’s judicial independence and endanger dissidents.

Since then, the protest has transformed into more violent riots and a mass movement against the Hong Kong government and mainland China. Showing no sign of dying down, the Hong Kong crisis could be spreading its spillover effects to other countries in Asia.


Political implications

The political crisis in Hong Kong may set a precedent for other anti-government movements in other Asian countries.

It is worth mentioning that the Chinese government and some other countries in Southeast Asia have shared similar view that the protest in Hong Kong is a “colour revolution with a Hong Kong style”.

The situation could be that the Asian opposition leaders, who are having a certain degree of political and personal relationships with the leaders of Hong Kong opposition party, could use this “colour revolution with Hong Kong style” as a model to encourage their supporters to follow in the footsteps of the movement in Hong Kong.

This political implication for Cambodia is quite relevant given the fact that Cambodian opposition leaders, particularly Sam Rainsy, is believed to have a certain degree of political and personal relationship with Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, the leader of the Hong Kong protests. Wong has already expressed his support for Rainsy, who has announced his return to Cambodia on Nov 9 in order to provoke what he called “people power”. The Royal Government of Cambodia referred to this action as an attempt to launch a “coup d’etat”.

This could be a very dangerous scenario for Cambodia and possibly for other Asian states.

It should be noted that Asia has been trapped in the geopolitical rivalry of the great powers, the US and China.

If political implications of the Hong Kong protests exist in other states in Asia, the super powers may have a legitimate excuse to intervene in the domestic affairs of the countries in the region.

In the case of Hong Kong, the Chinese government has accused the West, particularly the US and the UK, who were involved in similar “colour revolutions” in some other parts of the world, of getting involved in provoking similar situations in Hong Kong, where the protesters have smartly used democracy and freedom as a tool to gain sympathy and support for their movement.

It could be argued that the motives behind such involvement are to turn Hong Kong into a place of constant turmoil to drain China’s resources, affect China’s economic development and contain China for the strategic reason that Hong Kong plays an important role in the economic development of China as well as the legitimacy of one country, two systems.

Hence, the similar circumstances and consequences could be happening tin other Asian nations such as Cambodia if a similar movement happens.


Economic implications

The economy of Hong Kong is already heading toward its first recession in a decade because of the local unrest combined with the US-China trade war. The private sector and tourism industry have all begun to lose. Banks are issuing unprecedented profit warnings, while hotels and restaurants are half-empty as many countries have issued travel warnings to their citizens who wish to visit Hong Kong.

Several global events have been postponed and  sales could drop by 20 to 30 percent this year.

Looking at the crisis in the short run, it could be a chance for other Asian countries to shine.

It is reported that many investors have chosen to leave Hong Kong, while some banks and multinational companies have started planning on moving their bases to other nearby Asian cities.

This is a prominent opportunity for other Asian countries such as Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam to promote their investment growth.

Also, the tourism industry of other Asian countries, specifically Cambodia, could be growing while Hong Kong is experiencing a sharp decrease in its tourists because people fear for their safety when travelling to the city.

Figures have shown that the hotel occupancy rates are down double-digit percentages and group tour bookings from the short-haul market have plunged by up to 50 percent.

In short, the political crisis is a huge loss for the economy of Hong Kong but it could be an opportunity for other Asian countries for the time-being.


The long run

In the long run, however, the crisis in Hong Kong could affect everyone in the region. Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan has warned that this Asian financial hub was entering a very difficult economic environment as trade declined and growth slowed. The failure of the economy of Hong Kong will affect the whole continent as the countries in the region have cooperated and, at the same time, competed with Hong Kong.

It should be noted that Asian and world economic activities are interconnected because of globalisation and the market economy.

Therefore, everyone in the market will be affected when an actor, particularly a financial hub such as Hong Kong, is not fully functional.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also claimed that the current instability and crisis in Hong Kong is a bad thing for Singapore and it will affect the whole region.

It could be concluded that the crisis in Hong Kong has attracted a lot of attention as well as concern from other countries all over the world, particularly Asian nations. The concern is that the prolonged crisis could affect regional economic activities and the negative political implications from the protest could be transferred to other countries in Asia.

This is no doubt a situation that Asia would not like to see.


Lim Menghour is deputy director of the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies and the Asian Vision Institute

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