Hong Kong’s Liberal Party Bows Out After 30 Years of Political Dominance

Hong Kong’s Liberal Party had been representing Hong Kong, a center of global finance, for more than 30 years. But faced with the prospect of being booted from power by a far-left nationalist, the party’s eight-year-old leader stepped down on Dec. 9, ending its reign of one of Asia’s most liberal democracies.

Ma So-Yeon, a 37-year-old economics graduate, lost by an impressive landslide. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s competing pro-independence Democrats and the mainstream Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) both swept to office, allowing them to establish their own sway over an increasingly self-assertive, hard-won political process.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to power in Taiwan in January’s landslide election and is now headed by President Tsai Ing-wen, a Chinese loyalist who was first elected to the job in 2016. She is now Taiwan’s first female president, and one of only two of Asia’s handful of female leaders—the second being Singapore’s Theresa May.

Ma So-Yeon’s departure spells the end of an era for Hong Kong, a center of global finance, but also for a deeply liberal party of the region’s intellectual elite. Its founder, former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui, was founding chairman of the Asia Society, a nonpartisan Hong Kong cultural and social organization that provides intellectual platform for global leaders.

Hui would keep a low profile on Taiwan’s success and focus instead on Hong Kong’s ongoing dispute with Beijing over the former British colony’s democratic development, especially the concept of universal suffrage. He envisioned a country without political conflicts, free from the bonds of colonialism, and treated economic development, after accession to Chinese sovereignty, as the fulcrum of progress.

The ideology was a massive success in Hong Kong, which retained its remarkable traditions of civil liberties, championing free speech, while retaining a largely Chinese economy while launching itself on the world’s stage of finance and the global marketplace.

But the financial lustre of Hong Kong has faded over the past decade. Its foreign-exchange reserves were boosted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, a fervent capitalist, in the early 1980s, but these savings have gradually been drained away by balance-of-payments deficits. Interest rate differentials mean Hong Kong borrowed more to finance its infrastructure, pushing the ratio of debt to the gross domestic product to 74.6 percent. And Beijing, the founder of one of the world’s first global trade and investment hubs, has quietly eliminated Hong Kong’s role as a financial gateway to the mainland by tightening passport rules.

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