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Terence Corcoran: First we take Hong Kong

·8 min read

As political and military tensions erupted last week in the wake of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, analysts began speculating about the possible trade and governance impacts of China’s clear willingness to defend its long-run ambition: Taiwan belongs to China. Reports of trade and transport blockades continue this week, including internet attacks, with some warning that under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be prepared to attack Taiwan to “secure his legacy.”

Chances of such an aggressive and potentially catastrophic move seem remote. On the other hand, it’s worth looking at President Xi’s carefully orchestrated takeover of Hong Kong. Even more revealing is the willingness of much of the world’s western intellectual and corporate elites, including many in Canada, to go along with Xi’s plan to subsume Hong Kong into China’s party-state system.

The takeover of Taiwan may not happen this year, or ever. The CCP’s long-term plan to control Hong Kong, however, was outlined back in 2019 in a 60-page document that delineated Xi Jinping’s expansion dreams, based on long-term strategies and an evolving restructuring of systems of political and economic control.

There are also short-term aspects of the mainland takeover of the former British colony. Just before Pelosi left Washington for Taiwan, news broke that HSBC, the London-based global banking giant, had been forced to install a Chinese Communist Party committee in its investment banking subsidiary in China — a move seen by many as a sign that banks operating in China will need to bring in government officials. At the same time, HSBC is under pressure from inside China to break up and sell its China operations.

The gradual fall of Hong Kong, from its past status as a model of neoliberal free-market success under British control and later under the one-country two-systems initiative that also encompassed Macau, is now accelerating. In the midst of Hong Kong’s current stormy political and economic crises, the region is now the target of a perverse Communist Party coalition of ideological, economic and financial forces.

Called the Greater Bay Area (GBA) initiative, the objective is to somehow amalgamate nine mainland municipal regions and Hong Kong and Macau (see map) into a mega-region. The objective is to draw the two former colonies into the “orbit of the motherland” and install economic and governance structures that can be controlled — often in mysterious ways — by Beijing.

The controlling essence of the Outline Development Plan for the Greater Bay Area was summarized in a recent paper by three Canadian academics.

In “Bayspeak: Narrating China’s Greater Bay Area,” Chris Meulbroek and Jamie Peck of the University of British Columbia and Jun Zhang of the University of Toronto wrote optimistically about the plan while acknowledging that the 60-page document is filled with baffling Communist Party jargon and endless streams of incoherent economic and political advocacy. The jargon is so dense Meulbroek et al created the word “Bayspeak” to capture what they describe as “intensely processed language.”

According to Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s former chief executive, the plan to amalgamate Hong Kong and create a Greater Bay Area zone was “personally devised, personally planned, and personally driven by” President Xi.

A sentence in the plan begins: “To fully apply Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, co-ordinate the implementation of the ‘Five-sphere Integrated Plan’ and the ‘Four-pronged Comprehensive Strategy’ …”

That’s the beginning of a 225-word sentence that Meulbroek et al describe as an “indiscriminate mashup of reform talk, party line correctness and developmentalist reasoning.”

When it comes to neo-statism, Hong Kong is already gone. Is Taiwan next?

Despite the massive volume of such Bayspeak, the underlying strategy is clear. The objective, at the hands of the party-state in Beijing, is “a far-reaching plan to construct a new space — and scale — for innovation-rich and state-guided growth in the newly designated GBA.”  The “guiding ideology” may be expansive and vague, but there can be no mistake that the over mission is to be orchestrated by the Communist party-state.

While the authors of the Bayspeak paper identify the problems and mysteries imbedded in 60 pages of incoherence, they are generally positive about the Greater Bay Area plan. In the jargon of their own incoherent “critical discourse analysis” methods, the Canadian academics see Bayspeak as an emergent discourse that “can be read as hyperbolic, aspirational and symbolic, but as the benign and developmentalist face of the Communist Party line in this economically important but politically stressed region.”

The plan may yet prove to be significant, they say, as it opens “new space (and scale) for co-ordinated development and growth-coalition building under the auspices of the decentralized party-state.”

If you have had enough of this Bayspeak and critical discourse analysis talk, bear in mind that it comes from many years of leftist activism against the neoliberal, free markets and open-economy ideas that have dominated much of economic thinking for most of the past 50 years. The Bayspeak authors dismiss the “degraded paradigm” of U.S.-centric neoliberalism.

One of the Bayspeak authors, Jamie Peck, is an aggressive critic of the neoliberal model, especially as it applies to Hong Kong. In a 2021 paper, “Milton’s Paradise: Situating Hong Kong in Neoliberal Lore,” Peck hyperventilates through the ideas of the great free-market economist Milton Friedman. Putting down neoliberalism (and Friedman) is all the rage across the academic world and beyond — has been for some years. Another Peck paper is “On capitalism’s cusp,”  which proposes alternative statist-capitalism economic models.

The neo-statist capitalist model — the Chinese party-state model — has already captured swaths of academic and corporate followers here in Canada and around the world, with more to come.

In Hong Kong, for example, China’s Greater Bay Area plan has been seized upon by the big-name consulting industry and others. The Bayspeak paper talks about how private sector actors “not only reciprocate Beijing’s call for mobilization but in the process begin to realize aspects of the GBA plan. Indeed, signs of a GBA-oriented growth coalition-in-formation can be detected, predictably led by consultancy houses, which have been flooding this potentially lucrative market with ‘plans’ of their own.”

From Deloitte to McKinsey, the corporate neo-statist rush is on to join Xi Jinping’s neo-statist mission to demolish neoliberalism. In the words of the Bayspeak paper, “In aggregate, these corporate first responders serve to echo and recirculate working translations of bayspeak and its renewed lexicon of regional co-operation.”

When it comes to neo-statism, Hong Kong is already gone. Is Taiwan next? The current head of the Hong Kong government, John Lee, said his government “has unwavering determination in and a clear stance against any advocacy of ‘Taiwan independence’, and fully supports the central government’s resolute determination in safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

As the military and trade sabres rattle over neoliberal Taiwan, even without a war the battle to destroy another neoliberal triumph is just getting underway.

• Email: tcorcoran@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

Financial Post

Nota Bene: The “party-state” plan for Hong Kong region

The following is excerpted from “Bayspeak: Narrating China’s Greater Bay Area” by Chris Meulbroek and Jamie Peck, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, and Jun Zhang, University of Toronto; Journal of Contemporary Asia (2022), with support of Canadian government via a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant.

China’s Greater Bay Area (GBA) initiative is the latest and most ambitious attempt to “regionalize” the development process in the Pearl River Delta, promising to accelerate political-economic integration via an innovation-intensive model of growth. Drawing on the techniques of critical discourse analysis, this article presents a deconstruction of the GBA’s emergent spatial imaginary — “bayspeak” — and the rescaled mode of governance that it portends. By way of an interrogation of texts and contexts relating to the GBA initiative, it is suggested that the plan should be taken seriously, if not literally, in its projection of an encompassing and assimilative, if somewhat intransitive, mode of governance. An effort to constitute a mega-region “for itself,” rather than simply “in itself,” the GBA program has opened a new space (and scale) for co-ordinated development and growth-coalition building under the auspices of the decentralized party-state. As an emergent discourse, bayspeak can be read as hyperbolic, aspirational and symbolic, but as the benign and developmentalist face of the Communist Party line in this economically important but politically stressed region, it may yet prove to be significant …

As an object lesson in ideological obfuscation, bayspeak co-exists with a sustained effort, across various party circles, in foreign policy think-tanks, and in academia, to draw sharp and defining contrasts with the degraded paradigm of Western, USA-centric neo-liberalism …

The GBA is being actively constituted, in real time, as a site, scale and space for searching experiments in regionalized meta-governance, institutional rationalization and eco-systemic regulation. This emergent mode of market-facing and market-making governance is being guided by the cloaked hand of the “co-ordinative” party-state, in ways that should not be prematurely shoehorned into orthodox understandings of command and control, market liberalization or some stereotype of state capitalism. …

This solution is unlikely to resemble Western models of market integration, such as that of the European Union.

Indeed, there is no template. Projects set in motion in the name of the GBA, and governed under its aegis, will begin to remake this region, no doubt in ways that exceed and contradict as well as echo the plan. In this respect, the GBA will be “breaking new ground.”