Hong Kong I lived here for five years until 1993, a time when a major topic of discussion was what would happen when this British colony became part of mainland China after 1997. At the time my opinion, offered to whoever asked, was that a corrupt and inefficient Chinese bureaucracy would slowly drive this city-state into the ground.
I was wrong. Very wrong.
Having just returned from a few days stay, I can report Hong Kong is as vibrant as ever. The massive office complexes along the waterfront we boasted about when I lived there have been dwarfed by new and larger complexes built on reclaimed land in the harbor. Keeping the momentum going, an ambitious new reclamation project has started, generating some controversy because it has at least temporarily displaced the landmark Star Ferry pier.
Further along the waterway, a mammoth extension now juts out in front of what was not long ago the new conference and exhibition center, attracting bus loads of mainland Chinese tourists. It is set to open next year, ready to host events that could rival those in Las Vegas.
Outside the city center, huge new residential complexes are still going up both in the ritzy expat beach towns of the south island and in the white collar and middle class working areas of Kowloon and the New Territories. These are strong signs of a rising standard of living both for the elite captains of industry and the everyday worker and bureaucrat.
Three or more new subway lines now spin out from the city center into the peninsula and surrounding islands. The new airport, on one of those islands, is more vast and efficient than anything I have seen in the U.S. or Europe. Welcome signs there call Hong Kong "The World City." Indeed, this gateway to China is ready to welcome all comers.
Far from being a villain, China has come to Hong Kong's rescue several time in the last few years when the Asian financial crisis, SARS or bird flu put the local economy in a funk. By helping finance new projects and opening the door to individual tourists from the mainland, China helped propped up this place until its current economic resurgence kicked in.
Hong Kong is still doing its best to return the favor. Touring through one of the city's tony hotels I noticed a well-heeled conference on foreign investment in Guangzhou, a regular event here no doubt.
Indeed, if anyone is dragging their heels on the road to progress it is probably Hong Kong's traditional old tech companies who make clothes and toys across the border. They balked recently about China's plans to reserve the area for high tech companies, pushing labor-intensive and dirty manufacturing out of Guangdong province.