Opinion | Hong Kong is its own best sales pitch – just let it speak

Then there is the determination of some foreign governments and their allies to hobble China’s economic development and peaceful return to its former prominence.

These groups interact in front of the international media, which is always keen to report on a controversy. A former politician will make a dramatic claim to have escaped from Hong Kong to avoid persecution, a former bigwig will lend support and the administration concerned will arrange a photo op with a senior figure to give everyone some free publicity. Everybody wins.

It is even better if the Hong Kong authorities give in to the urge to issue an intemperate response, then the whole merry-go-round can complete the circle again. How can we diminish the vicious narrative cycle about the city and tell the whole world about how things are here?

Perhaps Hong Kong should start by ceasing to add fuel to the fire. Whenever government officials attack named individuals in a high-profile way using strong language, the outcome will only add lustre to their standing. Publicity-seeking politicians in other countries will be lining up to have photographs taken with them.

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Hong Kong offers HK$1 million bounties on another 5 fugitive opposition figures

Hong Kong offers HK$1 million bounties on another 5 fugitive opposition figures

I was disappointed to hear the Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung and other government figures say that going after fugitives is likely to be the top priority following the enactment of the Article 23 legislation. Is this the best course of action? After all, the people involved will never come back and their host governments are highly unlikely to extradite them.
Surely the city government’s first priority should be to rule wisely and ensure social stability is maintained. How about a statutory minimum size of residential unit so that the creative young people the city wants to retain and attract have the prospect of a decent living space for themselves and their families? How about a decent minimum wage?

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The message should be simple: Hong Kong is a great place to live and work. It is a safe city to visit, and travel advisories by some governments to the contrary are off the mark. If people have any doubts, they can come and see for themselves.

We should not be drawn into clause-by-clause debates on the new national security legislation, just a brief statement to point out that what the government has done is also present in other common-law jurisdictions, and that China is as entitled as anyone else to protect the country’s security. Then we should stop talking. The fire will never go out if we continue to give it oxygen.

When should this public relations drive begin? One suggestion is to wait until all pending high-profile trials have been completed. I do not support this idea as the proceedings will run for many months yet, including appeals, and there may be new ones in future.

The city cannot afford to be held hostage to judicial processes which run relatively slowly if it is to continue to promise a fair trial. In the end, Hong Kong will be judged by what it does, not by what it says, so we must continue to do the right thing.

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Who will make the best envoys? I’m sorry to say I cannot think of a single minister who comes across as a natural diplomat. The best performances by locals that I have seen so far have been by the current and former conveners of the unofficial members of the Executive Council.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee stood up well to the customary tough questioning on the BBC’s Hardtalk, and Bernard Chan represented the city well in a CNN interview with Julia Chatterley. But they are both part of the establishment, so however well they perform there will always be an aura of scepticism around them.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu applauds with lawmakers following the passing of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on March 19. Speaking up for Hong Kong should not be left only to the government and pro-establishment politicians. Photo: AP

Looking back to American Chamber of Commerce chairman Jim Thompson stepping up in 2003 to help Hong Kong’s economy recover in the aftermath of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak could provide an answer. The city should trawl the international business community, particularly leaders of international chambers of commerce, to identify effective advocates.

Hong Kong has many friends and supporters from the international community already based here, in some cases for many years. Who better to talk to Americans, Australians, Britons, Kiwis or Canadians than their compatriots?

But in the end it will take a combined effort from all Hongkongers. Everyone with friends or relatives overseas should be urging visits. Hong Kong is its own best sales pitch, it just needs a chance to speak.

Mike Rowse is an independent commentator

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