Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hand with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor after delivering his speech during the 20th anniversary of Macau's return to China Ceremony in Macau on December 20, 2019. Photo: AFP/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Xi Jinping is a man of many talents. How, otherwise, could he have achieved such pre-eminence in China? Yet one talent that he appears to be singularly lacking is making sound objective judgments.

I speak of his inability to value the pearl that is the Hong Kong people and the unique contribution that they make to the greater good of China.

This small territory with its less than 8 million population is the third-greatest financial center in the world, something that inures greatly to the benefit of the Chinese economy.

For 22 years, this financial hub with its world-class independent judiciary, independent Bar, and internationally reputable firms of solicitors and accountants, has provided the engine room for Asian trade and dispute resolution.

The one quality that singles out Hong Kong as the place for business confidence is that its judiciary and professional services are free from government interference.

This is what distinguishes it, for example, from Singapore, regardless of what other attractions the Lion City may and does offer.

One illustration of Hong Kong’s special attraction to investors is that its regulatory system and process give them the essential confidence to list on the HKEX, a quality that, no matter their aspirations, Shanghai and Shenzhen do not possess.

None of these qualities detract from China’s international standing; quite the reverse, they enhance it. Which is why Beijing feeling it necessary to meddle in Hong Kong’s administration and legal system defies a rational explanation.

The recent farce of praising Macau and making unfavorable comparisons with Hong Kong highlights the folly of not seeing the big picture. Without wishing to be unkind, Macau’s only significant contribution to China is as a vast laundry for the billions in black money generated by unfettered corruption.

No wonder Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s poor husband did not join in the happy-clapping.

By much the same reasoning, Beijing’s hypersensitivity to anything or anyone whom it perceives as critical of the People’s Republic of China strikes one as immature if not childish.

Given the size of its economy, the sheer weight of its population, the technical, commercial and industrial eminence that it has achieved to date, one would expect China either to ignore or give measured responses to criticism. Surely, China is the elephant and its critics mere fleas

Given the size of its economy, the sheer weight of its population, the technical, commercial and industrial eminence that it has achieved to date, one would expect China either to ignore or give measured responses to criticism. Surely, China is the elephant and its critics mere fleas.

Only a lunatic would give a nanosecond’s attention to the tiny handful of people who talk about independence for Hong Kong. Not only is it illusory (I was tempted to say hallucinatory) but the vast bulk of the population know that it is wholly unfeasible. Had it been practicable, the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher could simply have yielded up the New Territories and let Hong Kong go it alone.

It really does not need the propagandists of the Chinese government’s Hong Kong Liaison Office to bark like a pack of mad dogs. Just treat the sad little voices of the independence seekers with lofty disdain, or even humor them.

Refusing an entry visa to the highly respected Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet because he chaired the lunchtime address by Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong pro-independence party, was petty and childish. Certainly not the behavior of a country with thousands of years of civilization behind it.

Left alone, Hong Kong has been doing a sterling job of providing China, by extension, with a level of financial and legal sophistication that it lacks and which its doctrinaire political approach prevents it from developing in the foreseeable future.

It is not difficult to appreciate that a country the size and complexity of China requires to be governed by fear. Sadly, that has been China’s long history. You cannot legislate people to compel the populace to love you, whether you are the emperor or the Communist Party. You cannot peddle affection – it has to be earned.

Nor does it require a rocket scientist to recognize that in spite of its succession of ramshackle governments, each one more like Fred Karno’s Army than its predecessor, Hong Kong had been functioning remarkably well.

Trying to govern Hong Kong by fear is a fool’s errand. The current Hong Kong administration is a farrago of fools.

True, the Gini Index reflects the obscene wealth and influence of a handful of property developers and their greedy and selfish manipulation of the governments, and this disease has been suppurating untreated for far too long.

But the straw that broke the donkey’s back was the ridiculous proposal to institutionalize rendition of people suspected of criminal activity to the vagaries of what passes, laughably, for a justice system in the mainland.

Had the oxymoronic secretary for justice been doing her job she would have explained to Carrie Lam that the idea should never have seen the light of day. Regrettably, Teresa Cheng has as much confidence in Hong Kong’s legal system as she has in its orthopedic surgeons.

The heart of the matter is that Hong Kong is not its dystopian government but the genius of its people, and President Xi’s failure to recognize that and leave them alone to do what they do best, without being meddled with, is a singular cerebral shortcoming.

Communist practice and philosophy are very big on self-criticism. Rather than sending his lapdogs to bark at the people of Hong Kong who protest at their dysfunctional government, President Xi should remonstrate with himself just as Othello did that he risks, “just like the base Indian, [throwing] a pearl away richer than all his tribe.”

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