How Hong Kong beat the pandemic


‘We should trust our scientific experts and global institutions... rather than trying to find scapegoats to detract from efforts to contain the pandemic,’ says Arthur Li.

TAGS: Interview, Coronavirus, Politics

Hong Kong is back on front pages around the world in two different but overlapping ways. While street protests have again gathered pace after China decided to introduce a new security law that some claim might threaten the “one country, two systems” principle agreed to when Britain handed the territory over to China in 1997, Hong Kong has also met with admiration for its success in battling the virus.

Distinguished doctor and academic Arthur Li, chairman of the Council of the University of Hong Kong and an influential member of the Executive Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region that governs the former colony of the British Crown, is direct in his response to questions regarding both geopolitical and epidemiological developments.

According to US President Donald Trump, the new security law introduced by China heralds the end of “one country, two systems.” Do you think this assessment is an exaggeration or that Beijing is indeed accelerating Hong Kong’s integration into greater China? 

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s mini-constitution), defense and foreign policies are the responsibilities of the Central People’s Government (CPG) in Beijing. As national security is part of the defense of a country, Beijing has every legal right to legislate National Security Law (NSL) for Hong Kong to protect “one country.” Therefore, the concept of “one country, two systems” has not been eroded.

For many months now we have been seeing large demonstrations taking place in Hong Kong. Do they express the resentment of a large part of the Hong Kong people toward China’s interference in the city or are they caused by an anti-China movement helped by foreign interference, as China has suggested? 

The recent civil unrest in the United States offers good comparisons with Hong Kong. The demonstrations in the US are spontaneous, with no yellow helmets, gas masks or petrol bombs. The Hong Kong riots are well organized and funded, [and provided] with food, drinks and telecommunications. Money trails have led back to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which is funded by the US Congress and evolved from the CIA.

The US has said that it is about to review Hong Kong’s special status in terms of trade relations. Britain has said that it will grant UK visas to Hong Kong citizens. Could these decisions signify that Hong Kong’s position as a leading global trade center is in danger? 

Hong Kong’s special status in trade benefits the US with a large trade surplus every year. There are over 1,300 US companies in Hong Kong. To revoke the trade benefits would be cutting its nose off to spite its face. Over 2 million people in Hong Kong are entitled to British National Overseas (BNO) passports yet so far very few people have applied for it. In the early 1990s, many people who feared the return of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China emigrated to Canada and Australia as well as the USA and the UK. Yet most emigres have now returned for a better life in Hong Kong.

The world is increasingly seeing Hong Kong as a major front in an escalating confrontation between China and the US. What can the city do to avoid being sucked into this confrontation and instead employ its unique position to play a constructive and conciliatory role? Could it be in everybody’s interests if “one state, two systems” remains in place until 2047? 

Sadly, Hong Kong is a pawn used by the USA to bash China especially in this election year in the US. Fortunately, Hong Kong has the full support of China to continue to thrive.

Hong Kong managed the coronavirus pandemic remarkably well without imposing a lockdown and it has emerged as one of the best examples of how to tackle the disease globally. What are the Hong Kong’s main lessons regarding the pandemic that the world should be learning? 

Although we do not have a lockdown in Hong Kong, we have been testing, tracing and quarantining all possible contacts. Moreover, we have observed social distancing, been wearing masks, and the general population has been careful about hand hygiene.

Is Hong Kong’s success in the readiness of the population to change behavior (working from home, wearing masks in public, social distancing etc) related to the lessons learned when previous epidemics struck the city (swine flu and SARS)? 

SARS was a very painful experience for us and as a population we are very aware of contagious infections.

What is Hong Kong doing now to make sure it is even better prepared for a possible second wave of the epidemic?

We have a policy of “lift and suppress.” When our infection rate is down, we relax some measures, like allowing the congregation of eight people instead of four, and open bars and gyms.

Trump has referred to a “China virus” intended to attack the West while China has insinuated that the US might have planted the virus in Wuhan. What can be the antidote to such conspiracy theories that sow anger and confusion and weaken the unity needed to tackle global emergencies? 

Viruses know no national boundaries and are color-blind. We should trust our scientific experts and global institutions like the World Health Organization rather than trying to find scapegoats to detract from efforts to contain the pandemic.