According to real estate developer Ivan Ko’s original plans, the charter town “Nextpolis” would be wedged between two of Ireland’s largest cities and filled with half a million Hong Kongers fleeing political pressures in their hometown.
But while charter cities are quite common, international charter cities are another matter. The idea, proposed in the late 2000s, was that new cities could be established in developing countries and run by governments or external organizations, with a completely different economic and social model from the rest of the country, as a way to enhance Development.
If “Nextpolis” goes ahead, it will be the first offer to establish an international charter city ̵
Previous attempts have been derailed by corruption and instability, while the model itself has been denounced by some as neocolonial and impractical.
Ko, founder of the international charter city investment firm, Victoria Harbor Group (VHG), says his plan for a “new Hong Kong” in Ireland is still on track, despite an apparent lack of progress with Irish authorities. .
What is a charter city?
Hong Kong itself was the original inspiration for many supporters of international charter cities, including Romer, who saw it as a proof of concept: a city that had operated for decades with a British structure in Asia, and then a political system. and economic unique in China.
International charter cities work like this: A new city is created within a sovereign country but is free to experiment with its own political and economic system, usually one with low taxes and little regulation. A foreign country might even act as the city administrator – the idea is that a spill-over effect from this city will boost the economy of the developing country in which it is built.
Romer, in a 2009 Ted Talk, gave the example of creating a “special administrative zone” in Guantanamo Bay, on the southeastern tip of Cuba, which would be administered by Canada, and “connecting the modern economy and the world. modern “in Cuba. This is similar to how China created a special economic zone in Shenzhen to connect the country to the capitalist world and give urban pockets greater economic freedom to experiment without a wholesale change in the national economic system.
“Wages tend to be lower than in the country, labor standards worse (and) non-existent environmental standards,” he said. “This makes it ideal for foreign capital accumulation models, but not good for national development.”
New Hong Kong?
In a statement, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said that “following an initial approach in December 2019, the department had limited contact” with Ko and took “no further action” on the matter.
And if anything ever happens, it’s likely a radically reduced version of Ko’s original vision. According to a version of the plan leaked to the Times of London, it initially proposed a half-million-person deal. Its top floor is for a city of just 15,000, smaller than some Hong Kong housing estates. According to the Times, officials expressed concern about acquiring the amount of land needed for a city of the size Ko initially suggested.
Yet Hong Kong is such an attractive example to charter city proponents of a place that exists within a country but governs itself differently that many believe this model can be transferred to another continent, swapping China for Ireland or the United Kingdom, to enjoy the same economic success that Hong Kong has in recent decades.
The original charter city
In a recent essay “Let’s build Hong Kong 2.0 here in the UK”, Sam Bowman, director of competition policy at the International Center for Law & Economics, wrote that “charter city advocates want to replicate Hong Kong’s success and Singapore. “
Hong Kong was born out of colonial rule. The British administered a small portion of what was previously Chinese territory until 1997, giving it an established legal framework and access to government experience.
And while libertarian economist Milton Friedman has called Hong Kong under the British a “quasi-laboratory experiment in what happens when the government limits itself to its function and leaves people free to pursue their own goals,” the reality is not so. simple.
And despite all the talk about Hong Kong’s ancient freedoms, its Chinese residents didn’t have much political representation until the turn of the 20th century.
John Mok, an academic at the University of California, Irvine, who studies Hong Kong, said western thinkers “always frame Hong Kong as an economically liberal city with good liberal values.”
“We Hong Kongers know very well that the gap between rich and poor is very, very wide,” he said.
Supply and demand
While Hong Kong may have some connection with the idea of an international charter city, building a “new Hong Kong” for migrants in another country is a distinct departure from the original concept.
Instead of building a charter city within a developing country, catering to an existing population that needs jobs and opportunities, the “new Hong Kong” model is based on Ireland or another government willing to accept. thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of new migrants, on the grounds that the proposed city will bring economic benefits.
To sell this idea, many supporters have framed the people of Hong Kong as economic dynamos, often wandering into racially tinged territory of “industrious Asians”.
However, Chinese-American scientist Yangyang Cheng said that these “sparkling phrases are not compliments. They are dehumanizing.”
Rich and highly educated migrants can be a boon to the countries they move to, these comments ignore the fact that a huge percentage of Hong Kong’s population suffers from the wealth gap and overlook the reality that a new city may not offer the same economic opportunity as their home.
“By describing Hong Kongers as the ‘right’ type of immigrant, distinct from US-Mexican border migrants or refugees across the Mediterranean, Western lawmakers see the Asian city as their own political theater,” Cheng wrote. . “They claim the role of human rights defenders by feigning solidarity, while espousing racist and xenophobic policies at home”.
Nor is it necessarily clear that many Hong Kong citizens would agree to move to north-east Ireland, or an underpopulated part of the UK, as charter city proposals require them to do.
Wetherell, the University of York academic, said that despite promises to somehow recreate the Hong Kong system in Ireland or the UK, a person’s ties to a particular place “are much deeper than the similarity. of physical buildings “, economic models or tax regimes.
“Ireland isn’t Hong Kong, it’s a different climate, it’s a different world,” he said. “(Even if I could) rebuild the Hong Kong skyline in Ireland, it wouldn’t be the same.”
A 28-year-old lawyer who was planning to emigrate told CNN that he too was inclined to Taiwan. He liked the idea of building a new Hong Kong, but said he “never really thought seriously” about Ireland.
“I’ve been there once, for two weeks. It’s a lovely place, but I don’t know much about it,” he added, speaking anonymously because of the delicacy of the subject. “Many Hong Kong people already live in Canada and the United States, or Taiwan and there are already mini communities of Hong Kong people. I’m not sure it’s the same for Ireland.”
CNN’s Jadyn Sham contributed to the report.