TOM PLATE WRITES IN THE SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST --
My biggest worry about China these days is not the mayhem of the markets and the edgy neuroticism of the mainland economy. The many reports of the world media have been full of telling, worrying detail. But the fact is that a huge, expanding, multifaceted economy such as China’s is not going to unfold a predictably and logically as a blooming baby rose. It will jerk, this way and that, like a neurotic octopus with more legs than it really requires and a central control system that somehow cannot keep track of them all.
China has plenty of economists as brilliant as any in the West. They will figure it all out, in time, if only the political masters give them enough time and relentlessly back them up. Bill Clinton’s economy in the second half of the 1990s was so amazing in part because the former president, while otherwise no saint, was intellectually secure enough to let the even smarter people – Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and so on - do their thing.
At the end of the day, politics generally will trump (oops…sorry) economics. The journalists will look to find the devil hiding behind some seemingly minor detail, and so it is the devilish (if still largely un-detailed) and definitely weird story out of Hong Long of the Causeway Bay bookstore and its missing team of five, including the owner, the rattles one’s cage more than roiling markets.
Indeed, for those of us rooting hard for a peaceful China to find its secure place on the world stage, the Case of the Shuttered Bookstore unnerves. Balance and perspective must be maintained, of course, until all the facts are out.
From China’s perspective, one country, two systems cannot work if HK evolves into a a base on the southern flank to subvert China and support covert Mainland opposition. President Xi Jinping's enemies on the mainland (growing in number and intensity with every corruption crackdown) may be using HK to spread malicious rumors about him in order to weaken or even destroy him. Why would not Mainland security people want to know who are behind this? Xi travels with an unusually large security detail, as pointed out in the previous column. Allow a full reiteration of Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law: “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.” Hong Kong has not done this yet.
If the allegedly subversive bookstore gang was spirited or somehow just lured to the Mainland by methods nefarious, as many on suspicious Hong Kong suspect, then this is of course a violation of the spirit, if not the law, of the doctrine of ‘one country, two systems’. Although perhaps not to be elevated to the same philosophical level as the Magna Carta, the doctrine of how big China can related to little HK has a lot going for it, and for sheer ingenuity is underestimated. It is true that the late Deng Xiaoping did not actually invent the 1C2S notion of one country-two systems to depict the method by which China wished to embrace Hong Kong and Taiwan. But it is equally true that the overall mastermind of China’s post-Mao rise from the dead was surely its leading apostle, and represents one of his signal legacies.
Until now, it seemed to me unthinkable that the national government centered in Beijing would regard it as anything other than canonical.
I do not think this was the ‘bad’ Xi at work behind the scenes. My fervent hope is that it was a low-level, Mission Ridiculous, a Watergate-style operation designed to ingratiate over-reaching security operatives with the Big Boss. Apparently, the bookstore’s bookshelves stocked a handful of tabloidian tomes detailing Clintonesque-type flings with floosies (Memo to Xi: People are very forgiving about human vulnerability; just ask Bill Clinton).
At this writing the bad books boys are probably still somewhere on the Mainland. Technically, no law has been broken based on the very facts that exist. But Beijing Central needs to clean this up, make an example of the Mission Ridiculous team, and focus on the really important issue of making one-country, two systems a shining example of smart 21st century international politics. Beijing cannot behave as a beast, especially if it expects smooth sailing in Hong Kong and a Mainland docking, some day, by Taiwan.
The world notes that Taiwan’s pro-independence political party just won a smashing victory and has regained the presidency (with its first female president). This is not good for the unification timetable unless the PRC plans an invasion. One country/two systems will eventually lead to one country if the Deng Doctrine is not all but worshipped. If it is not, one country will be achievable only by force. And exercising that option would set back China more than an infinite number of market corrections.