The newspaper headline says it all - "HK Fightback Urged As New Zones Blunt Edge"; Oh woe! Hong Kong has just re-discovered that some of Mainland China's larger cities have an intention to become potential competitors to its perceived advantage. Well, currently two of them, this time round.
Given the worried looks and furrowed brows in some quarters, it has to be said that this news should not be a surprise ladies and gentlemen. It is an issue that has been written about by me, and by far more intelligent people than me, (not difficult, I know!) over an extended period of time. And if that hasn't been enough of a warning, Mainland China has been saying it repeatedly and openly. The erudite and highly respected Dr. Fang Xinghai has been pushing Shanghai's case for becoming a major financial centre for a long time - with a view to restoring that city's former entrepreneurial dominance. Representatives from Beijing, and Tianjin and other Mainland Cities have all at some time or another been in Hong Kong saying, "we're open for business", pay attention. But one gets the sense that we haven't paid enough attention.
Hong Kong has benefitted from that blissful honeymoon period enjoyed by many newly weds, when adjustments to their change in status take place. In this case in 1997 of course. As the blushing bride, Hong Kong soon began to experience irrational self-doubt in a manner that had not been felt by the previous generation or two of Chinese entrepreneurs, who themselves had built on the legacy created by the foreign community. Despite Hong Kong being in a "privileged" status compared to many other cities on the Mainland at the time of the handover, the new spouse took care to preserve those privileges in a number of ways. One has to ask whether Hong Kong's retail businesses, for example, would have survived the last few years had it not been for the number of mainland tourists being allowed to visit the city. Certainly given the way rents have increased the vast majority would have been out of business due to greedy landlords, let alone a lack of domestic purchasers.
Then there was CEPA, the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement, not loved by all perhaps but yet a further indication that China was trying to help out its new charge. And let's not get too dewy-eyed about all this, as clearly China also wanted to send a message to the world at large and to Taiwan in particular that it could deliver on its promise to leave things unchanged in Hong Kong for 50 years.
So far so good; the benefits have been in Hong Kong's favour - although listening to some of the protestors on the street, if you were a recent arrival in Hong Kong, you might think that we have an appalling government and dreadful legislative opposition, and that relations with China are on an irretrievable downhill slope. Well part of it's true ... and possibly less the latter!!
But for us to be concerned at this stage about China's latest strategies aimed at benefitting its other cities is a bit rich. Firstly, we should have been assiduously putting ourselves in a position to compete with the best in China - domestically and internationally - and used that honeymoon period to cement our "privileged" position: not necessarily with the hope that we would remain dominant, because over time that was bound to be eroded, but we would at least be up there with or hopefully leading the other major players when the time came.
Secondly, the two cities chosen for the next stage of development are - only two cities. There could be many others. Admittedly Shanghai is a threat - always has been and always will, but it will still take them some time to gather all the skills and the reputation enjoyed by Hong Kong before they are a real challenge.
As a result, I do think we have time to put ourselves in a strong position to make it hard for other centres to overtake us. We already have the reputation, but we have an increasing negative perception for lagging behind other centres - not being responsive enough to a changing market. Perceptions that have been around long enough to indicate there is truth in them. But all of this is in our hands! If the benefits we have enjoyed are being eroded by others we have to make sure we implement those benefits better than others, and seek other innovative ways to be relevant to the market.
What we should not be doing is sitting wringing our hands and waiting for a nice handout from Beijing to bolster our position, to the detriment perhaps of the Mainland's other cities. There is a limit to Beijing's generosity. We should also be making it a much harder choice for businesses just to move north to the new centres - unless they are forced by the authorities there to do so. In that last scenario we would be stumped by a non-level playing field, and might have genuine grounds for complaint, but that's a different issue.
I fear we are continuing to erode the spirit that made Hong Kong the vibrant economic powerhouse it once was, by this lack of self-confidence. The announcement from China about the expansion of its financial businesses should be taken as a challenge, not as a reason to produce a handkerchief!