Among other things, President Xi Jinping signaled during his stay in the special administrative region a resolve to make Hong Kong a better governed city with a brighter future.
First was the review at the Shek Kong Barracks on Friday morning. It involved 60 armored vehicles and 61 types of vehicles that specialized in surveillance, command, communications, defence, engineering, missile delivery, interference and field rescue and prevention. Twelve types of military helicopters were on show.
According to the South China Morning Post, the spectacle included 20 squads of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison. That was five squads more than the review in 2015. What mattered was not the one-third increase in the number of squads, but instead the clear indication that the PLA's regional force was "no longer just a symbol of sovereignty but a combat-ready force capable of demonstrating China's military might".
"China's military might" can be a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends on where one stands. Some people may consider the PLA as something sinister, while other citizens lined up to see the Liaoning aircraft carrier on its maiden trip to Hong Kong. Or they can fear and adore the PLA at the same time - these sentiments may not be mutually exclusive and one need not be consistent anyway.
Since the lead-up to 2014's "Occupy" protests, the biggest fear of dissidents has always been that the PLA will be deployed to crack down on illegal political activities in Hong Kong. Our dissidents can eat the local police for breakfast but the PLA is an entirely different league. Xi understands what our dissidents' worst fear is and he is determined to bring out the message that anarchy on the streets will no longer be tolerated.
In addition to the sticks, or the threat to use them, there were also carrots. In Xi's keynote speech in a banquet the night before the 20th anniversary of the city's return to China, he called on Hong Kong residents to "believe in themselves, in Hong Kong, and in the country".
While noting the country's strong backing for Hong Kong, Xi made special emphasis on Hong Kong residents' own competence and wisdom in transforming a nameless fishing village into a modern metropolis. In particular, he emphasized the traditional pillar industries of international finance, trading and logistics. Hong Kong is an important connector, he said, bringing the outside world into the mainland and helping the mainland companies go out.
In the past, this role was called a "middleman". When the internet came many predicted disintermediation will make the middleman obsolete. That's not true. Hong Kong still has a unique advantage as a connector because of its special status as a SAR. Under "one country, two systems" Hong Kong is a special place where the mainland and the outside world can interact, and Hong Kong people are facilitators of that interaction.
To be a good facilitator or connector one must understand and respect both ends of the connection. In the past, the West was in the stronger position at the bargaining table and therefore the middleman deferred more toward its wishes. Today, the other end of the bargaining table - the mainland - is in an equal position more or less. As middleman, we now have to attend more to the wishes of the mainland. That's something we have to learn, and accept.
At the same time, a middleman between two equal parties requires more sophistication. In fact, that should be the true test of a competent middleman. Anyone can help bring the weaker side to the stronger; a pimp was never considered a middleman in the proper sense of the word.
Xi also reminded us that today the connectors from Hong Kong will have to work with not only the West but also the developing countries involved with the Belt and Road Initiative, another steep learning curve for us.
To excel as a connector in the new reality is not easy. Xi asked us to "believe in ourselves". We have done this before and achieved what is known as the "Lion Rock miracle". We can do it again if we work hard.
By Lau Nai-keung
Lau Nai-keung says it is not easy for HK to excel as a connector in the new reality, but the city can make it if its people work hard.