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Re: <nettime> From Deng & Thatcher 1984 to the Hong Kong 2014 OCCUPY
Brian Holmes on Wed, 8 Oct 2014 06:48:52 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> From Deng & Thatcher 1984 to the Hong Kong 2014 OCCUPY


On 10/07/2014 11:52 AM, dan s wang wrote:

>I hope young HK activists are thinking about long term strategies for
>bridging differences between themselves and their mainland
>contemporaries.  After all, the Gini Coefficient in the PRC has become
>much steeper than that of HK. (Not accepting the figure cited by
>Brian.)
>
>http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/28/china-more-unequal-richer
>
> But for that to happen, they first have to recognize the limited
> relevance of their democratic aspirations. This is a harsh thing to
> say after people put their lives on hold and bodies on the line for
> days on end, but the considerable tensions between HK and mainland
> peoples (meaning those that even care about HK) -- natural allies, one
> might think given their shared subjection -- will never be resolved
> otherwise. When enough people in HK see that the mainland folks are
> not simply unengaged politically but rather inhabit a permanent space
> of uncontrollability, and that the central government fears the vast
> population surrounding every ministerial office and every police
> station on the mainland far more than they do the Occupy activists,
> perhaps a shared accounting of discontents could begin. But that
> requires an acknowledgement that they and the mainlanders exist
> commonly under one government, and under one logic, that of capital.

This is a profound remark, Dan. Given that there is basically no chance 
of the Xi Jinping govt backing down on the policy of managed elections, 
it may well be that the present movement will mark a generational 
turning point, exactly in the sense that you indicate. In the aftermath 
it will become clear that, financial hub or not, Hong Kong is part of 
the PRC. Given that the city, despite its colorless business ethic, has 
long been the observatory from which locals and mainlanders in exile 
monitored and denounced the various labor, environmental and corruption 
abuses of the PRC, it will be interesting to see what this new 
consciousness produces. Since the Cultural Revolution, it would seem 
that both Hong Kong and the mainland have been controlled by the 
enticing chance to get rich, balanced against the fear of police 
repression and also of the adverse consequences of widespread unrest. 
Now the downsides of highly unequal wealth distributions become evident 
on both the island and the mainland. That could be the departure point 
for a much more interesting dialectic between the two. (Point of detail: 
the Gini coefficient of 0.73 quoted in the Guardian article is to do 
with property ownership and overall wealth, not income distribution, 
which is typically what's measured. The Guardian blundered that one. On 
the wealth measure HK is basically the same as China, 0.74. And the US 
is at 0.80 - just behind Switzerland, Denmark, Zimbabwe and Namibia!)

I disagree with your notion that Hong Kong's financial function will 
shift to the mainland. The PRC's currency and asset markets are state 
controlled and thereby insulated from global financial shocks, a 
situation that has served the party (and arguably, the country) so well 
that it is not likely to change in the near future. For that reason, 
Hong Kong's role as the mediator between global and Chinese capital will 
likely be preserved. I would add that the return of Hong Kong in 1997 
may have been a detail, but the process leading there was not. The money 
capital sunk in Shenzhen and other coastal cities during the course of 
the Nineties by Hong Kong - and by multinationals operating through Hong 
Kong - was necessarily accompanied by complex machines and the expertise 
to work them. (Taiwan is very important in this story too.) In the case 
of contemporary finance, something so insanely intricate cannot be 
learned overnight, much less just invented. Access to Hong Kong and its 
human and machine capital was crucial for the takeoff of China's 
brand-new new financial sector. In this process, Shenzhen -- which now 
has the world's 11th largest stock exchange -- was clearly the 
stepping-stone.

Synchronization names the gradual absorption, naturalization and 
reproduction of selected fractions of foreign capital, whether it's 
money or machines or cognitive skills of all kinds. For sure, Shanghai 
is now the 7th largest stock exchange by market capitalization, just 
behind Hong Kong which is number 6. And Shanghai is certainly much more 
important than Hong Kong in terms of culture, research, education and 
governing techniques, not to mention manufacturing. The synchronization 
is now complete, to the extent desired -- which was my point and perhaps 
it's also yours, just with a different emphasis. Nonetheless, the 
specific role of Hong Kong as financial mediator for the 
state-controlled PRC economy remains more or less intact until further 
notice. And that matters to the situation at hand, because the role of a 
hub in the transnational financial network requires free information and 
the ability to freely process it. The question for Beijing is how to 
maintain economic freedom while curtailing political freedom. The 
question for the people of Hong Kong is, can they live with that 
curtailment?

Where we agree 100% is that these things are worth discussing, because 
the evolution of China since 1989 is world-historical. The way that 
Tiananmen was dealt with - the repression of political expression 
compensated by the generalization of Deng's experimental free-market 
reforms - has been absolutely crucial to the unfolding of neoliberal 
globalization as a whole, and it has given us the political economy of 
the present. Any fundamental change in Chinese social relations would 
now affect the entire planet. Such a change has been proposed - however 
briefly, however precariously - on the streets this last week. That's 
why I'm so interested in it. What happens on that level, matters.

best, Brian


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