Hong Kong set the bar for charter cities. But it is not a template that can be moved

Under the original plans of property developer Ivan Ko, the charter city “Nextapolis” would be built between two of Ireland’s largest towns and filled with 1.5 million Hong Kongers sheltering from political pressures in their home city.

But while charter cities are fairly common, international charter cities are another matter. The idea, proposed in the late 2000s, was that new cities could be established in developing countries and operated by outside governments or organizations, a separate economic and social for supercharge development in the rest of the country. Model.

If “Nextapolis” goes ahead, it would be the first bid to establish an international charter city – albeit with a few – in about a decade, and the first bid to go beyond the planning stages.

Previous attempts were drawn out of corruption and instability, while the model has been characterized by some as neoconial and indescribable.

Co-founder of the International Charter City Investment Company, Victoria Harbor Group (VHG), his plans for a “new Hong Kong” in Ireland are still on track, despite an apparent lack of progress with Irish authorities.

What is Charter City?

International charter cities were first conceived by economist Paul Romer in late 2000.

Hong Kong itself was the original inspiration for many international charter city advocates, including Roemer, who saw it as a proof of concept: a city that had operated for decades with the British structure in Asia, and then one within China Unique political and economic system.

International charter cities work like this: a new city is built within a sovereign country, but is free to experiment with its own political and economic system – usually with lower taxes and skewed regulations. A foreign country can also act as a city administrator – the idea that a spillover effect of this city will boost the economy of the developing world country that it is built from.

Roemer, in a 2009 TED Talk, gave the example of creating a “special administrative zone” in Guantanamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba, which would be administered by Canada, and would “connect the modern economy and the modern world” to Cuba. . It is similar to how China created a special economic zone in Shenzhen to connect the country to the capitalist world and afford greater economic freedom to experiment without the wholesale transformation of the national economic system.

Hong Kong, or Ireland?  (This is from Ireland.)
But Romer’s two attempts to establish international charter cities in Madagascar and Honduras, both ultimately failed.
The first project broke when Madagascan President Mark Rawlomna was forced into a coup in 2009 in support of Roemer. He then drew attention to Honduras, who overthrew Porfirio Lobo by bringing him to power. Concerns about corruption thwarted the project, and Roemer eventually resigned from a transparency commission believed to be blocked by critical information.
For many critics of the Charter City model, the instability and corruption seen in these developing countries pointed to a problem at the center of the idea: that you cannot fix countries in some Neolithic economists by parachuting with grand ideas. Others also argued that the idea was neocolonial in itself.
Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist and author of “The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions”, said that the closest model to charter cities in practice is the free trade zone, which is economically in the literature “chubby”. Has been condemned “. Development because they actually do nothing to improve actual development outcomes. “

“Wages are lower in the national arena, with labor standards worse (and) more non-existent than environmental regulations,” he said. “This makes it ideal for a pattern of accumulation by foreign capital, but is not good for national development.”

New Hong Kong?

The founder of “Nextapolis”, Ko told CNN that he had been working on the idea for an Irish-Hong Kong “Charter City” since last year, when anti-government unrest shook Hong Kong, prompting many to leave Thought. But while he is reportedly pressuring his plan, the Irish government is curiously short.

In a statement, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs stated that “after an initial approach in December 2019, the Department had limited contact with Ko”, and had “taken no further action” on the matter.

Initially happy talking, Ko broke off communication in July. In the same month, a number of students were arrested on suspicion of “segregation” by Beijing under a new security law imposed on the city. Ko’s plan was held by many as a possible solution to those precautions by law.

And if anything is ever felt, it is likely to be a fundamentally inferior version of CoA’s original vision. According to a version of the plan leaked to the Times of London, he originally proposed a settlement of half a million people. His latest plan is for a city of just 15,000 compared to some residential residences in Hong Kong. According to the Times, officials expressed concern over obtaining the amount of land required for the size of a city, which was initially suggested by the size.

Ko is not the only charter city proposer to see this as a possible solution to Hong Kong’s current political crisis. But when these proposals reject Romer’s ideas, in practice they will be very different animals: Ireland is clearly not a developing country, nor is the Hong Kong government getting any chance to assist in the construction of the new colony .

Yet Hong Kong is a striking example of a place that exists within one country, but it governs itself differently that many people may move this model to another continent, swapping China for Ireland or the UK Taxes can enjoy the same economic success. That Hong Kong is in the last decades.

Original charter city

Sam Bowman, director of competition policy at the International Center for Law and Economics, recently wrote in an essay “Let’s build Hong Kong 2.0 here in the UK” that “lawyers in charter cities want to replicate the success of Hong Kong and Singapore.”

But charter city proponents are often blamed for the cherry-taking characteristics of the city that they like and point to as reasons for its development, while others ignore the issues of less synergy. Bowman and others also recall what the accidents of history have made Hong Kong today, and consequently the complex economic fabric will be harder to replicate.

Hong Kong sprang from colonial rule. The British had previously administered a small piece of Chinese territory until 1997, giving it access to an established legal scaffolding and expertise in governance.

While the liberal economist Milton Freedman called Hong Kong under the Brits “when the government is limited to its proper function and leaves the people free to fulfill its objectives,” the reality is not quite so simple.

But by the time Freedman accepted those comments in the 1980s, when he made a documentary on the city, Hong Kong was booming as a production hub, making sweatshop part of China’s migrants. The city was rapidly emerging as a tax haven and financial center, both connected to and sufficiently isolated from the global monetary system to avoid regulation.

And for all of Hong Kong’s pre-independence issues, its Chinese residents did not have much political representation until the end of the 20th century.

“It is very easy to have a free market free paradise if you don’t have democracy,” said Sam Wetherall, an expert on the history of cities at York University.
The legacy of that system can be seen today in Hong Kong, one of the most unequal societies on earth, with low wages and stratospheric rents that force many to live in small apartments or so-called “cage houses”. A small shared, very subdivided space with dozens of others. The city also relies on a class of low-paid migrant workers, many of whom are forced to live with their employers and already earn less than their wages of at least $ 4.80 per hour.

John Mok, an academic at the University of California, Irvine, studying Hong Kong, said that Western thinkers “always frame Hong Kong as an economically liberal city with good liberal values.”

“We Hong Kongers are well aware that the gap between rich and poor is very, very wide,” he said.

supply and demand

Although Hong Kong may have something to do with the idea of ​​an international charter city, the creation of a “new Hong Kong” for migrants to another country is a distinct departure from the original concept.

Instead of building a charter city inside a developing country, catering to an existing population in need of work and opportunities, the “new Hong Kong” model relies on Ireland or another government getting ready to accept thousands Is, if not hundreds of thousands, of new migrants, on the basis that the proposed city will bring economic benefits.

To sell the idea, many supporters have implicated Hong Kong people as economic dynamos, often wandering in a racially tight zone about “hardworking Asians”.

Writing in the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan, a former conservative politician and leading Brexiteer, called for a self-governing Hong Kong in Britain on the grounds that migrants would “bring their own property. And, once they arrived, They will generate economic activity. For the surrounding area, as they did in their hometown. “
Somewhere, Bloomberg’s editorial board and Australian government ministers have also spoken on the potential benefits of Hong Kong migrants.

However, Chinese-American scientist Yangyang Cheng said that such “phrases are not praised. They are demeaning.”

“The dominant rhetoric from Western countries to emphasize economic selfishness is beyond humanitarian theory,” he wrote. “They portray the caricature of a population where Hong Kong’s poor and dissatisfied are never part of the picture, where the value of life is defined by its productivity.”

Rich, highly educated expatriates can be a boon to the countries in which they visit, these comments ignore the fact that the bulk of Hong Kong’s population is suffering due to a wealth gap – and ignore this reality That a new city cannot offer the same economic opportunities as their home.

Cheng wrote, “By portraying the people of Hong Kong as the ‘right’ type of immigrant, as distinct from migrants on the US-Mexico border or as refugees from the Mediterranean Sea, Western lawmakers viewed the Asian city as their political theater saw.” “They profess to defend human rights in solidarity, while promoting racist and xenophobic policies at home.”

Nor is it readily apparent that many Hong Kongers will be on board with moving to northeastern Ireland, or an undeveloped part of the UK, as the Charter Cities proposal asks them to do.

A University of York academic, Wetherall, said that despite promises to somehow rebuild the Hong Kong system in Ireland or the UK, a person’s relationship at any place is “deeper than the similarity of physical buildings, economic models or tax systems” “.

“Ireland is not Hong Kong, it’s a different climate, it’s a different world,” he said. “(Even though you) can recreate Hong Kong’s horizon in Ireland, it won’t be the same.”

According to Mok, who along with colleagues surveyed Hong Kongers moving abroad, Taiwan’s autonomous island was the first choice, pointing to shared culture and history, and the island’s proximity to Hong Kong.

A 28-year-old lawyer who was planning to emigrate told CNN that he too was leaning toward Taiwan. He liked the idea of ​​building a new Hong Kong, but said he had “never thought seriously about Ireland”.

“I went there once for two weeks. It’s a lovely place, but I don’t know much about it,” he said, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject. “Many Hong Kong people are already living in Canada and the US or Taiwan and there are already mini communities of Hong Kong people. I’m not sure the same for Ireland.”

Jadin Sham of CNN contributed to the reporting.