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Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Welcoming new year means accepting good and bad as two sides of the same coin

Welcoming new year means accepting good and bad as two sides of the same coin

Last year was one of the city’s worst, but Hong Kong also received assurances that ‘one country, two systems’ had no expiry date, as well as witnessing a massive rollback of Covid-19 restrictions across China.
Learning Chinese idioms, usually four-word phrases, was a must back in the days when I was in school. One that took me a while to grasp its full meaning was yi feng wei er, loosely translated as “everything has two sides to it”, or “every coin has two sides”.

It’s the start of 2023, which means another round of New Year’s resolutions and forecasts. But it’s also a time for reflection, and yi feng wei er in particular provides food for thought.

For China – Hong Kong included – and the rest of the world, 2022 was arguably the worst year in decades, filled with gloom and doom. Along with the war in Ukraine, fears of a recession in the US and China had global impacts. The coronavirus pandemic continued to trouble the world with one new variant after another, and China is still trying to cope with a surge of infections after suddenly ending its tough, zero-Covid regime.

Hong Kong was hit by perhaps its worst outflow of talent since returning to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, sparked by a combination of pandemic-control and political concerns. As an open and free economy, the city had to cope with the side effects of both the US and mainland China’s economic slowdowns. Many jobs were lost and businesses shut down in the fallout.

However, clouds can indeed have silver linings and misfortunes may turn out to be blessings in disguise. That was the case for Hong Kong.

One encouraging development amid the many troubles of 2022, against the backdrop of China-US tensions, was the strong reassurance that there would be no expiry date for the city’s unique role under the “one country, two systems” policy. The message from China’s top leadership: this special governing formula will continue beyond the 50-year time frame set out in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Hong Kong was thus tasked to maintain its status as an international financial centre and keep its common law system, making the most of “two systems” for its own and the country’s interests.

The mainland’s abrupt U-turn to decide the country would essentially start “living with the virus” has enabled the soon-to-come resumption of cross-border travel and business activities. The flip side of the good news is that more countries are imposing curbs on arrivals from China – Hong Kong included – ostensibly out of concern that they might spread the coronavirus.

But there was no denying the hopeful atmosphere, the eagerness to leave behind the gloom of the past year, when tens of thousands of Hongkongers flocked to both sides of the harbour to ring in 2023, spurred on by their new-found freedom from three years of unforgiving social-distancing restrictions.

In his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, President Xi Jinping admitted that it was “only natural for different people to have different concerns or hold different views on the same issue” in a country of China’s size.

Hong Kong is not a big city, but what makes it special is the multicultural, multinational

aspect of its 7.2 million-strong population. There are bound to be differing views as the city tries to recover economically by refreshing its attractions for investors at home and abroad and winning the hearts and minds of sceptics, including the younger generation.

When it comes to wishing everyone a Happy New Year, everyone should be included, whether supporters or sceptics. I’m sure our resolve will be tested again in 2023, but may the spirit of yi feng wei er prevail to help us keep the faith when facing whatever storms lie ahead.

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