2018: Global Patterns and Local Trends
About the Conference
2018 began ominously with a trade war looming between the US and China that threatens to impact Hong Kong. Previous assumptions about an increasingly integrated world based on the free trade of goods and services are being tested. A counter-trend in the form of the rise of illiberal populist leaders has been facilitated by growing inequality in which the super-rich control an increasing share of the wealth while a majority of the world’s population remains near or below the poverty line. As a wealthy but highly unequal society Hong Kong appears a prime example of this. With the Chinese government tightening its control, Hong Kong’s liberal autocracy has come under increasing stress amidst growing calls for political separation and even independence by a small but vocal group of activists. This has occurred at the same time as Xi Jinping has further consolidated his power when the Communist Party decided earlier this year to abandon term limits for the presidency. China has continued to raise its international profile. The “Belt-and-Road” initiative designed to boost the Chinese economy promises an investment boom throughout much of Asia but critics predict many projects will prove unviable and that indebtedness will grow in the region. Similarly, the Greater Bay Area initiative aims to strengthen the regional economy by interconnecting the Pearl River Delta region including Guangdong, Macao, and Hong Kong. China has also continued its drive to secure claims in the South China Sea with some former opponents (particularly the Philippines) now moving toward China’s orbit. China has been taking an increasingly hostile stance to Taiwan, with missteps by the Trump administration making matters worse. On the other hand, Beijing appears supportive of talks between the US and North Korea. Another issue of increasing global concern has been the use of social network data collection to influence local elections and political processes by companies such as Cambridge Analytica using Facebook data. Meanwhile, China wants to use data collection, face recognition and other technologies to increase its control over its citizenry. These developments are particularly problematic for civil society movements in authoritarian regimes. The environmental movement, which relies primarily on grassroots activism, is likely to be impacted at a time it is already facing headwinds from the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord.