I have been in London for more than two years since immigrating from Hong Kong in 2021. This blog article is a reflection of some recent thoughts I’ve had in London, interacting with academics with similar interests.

My daily typical activities are normally consumed by business meetings, meals, and meeting people, and the days go by so quickly. But in the past two months, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in two academic seminars. I was deeply impressed by both events and wanted to share my experience with you.

I attended a sandwich lunch seminar at the Institute of Economic Affairs in February. The meeting place is located in an unremarkable ancient building in Westminster Abbey, so it’s easy to walk past the door without knowing it. The theme of the seminar was Private cities today and tomorrow: why we need competition in urban development. I believe that many people have never heard of the concept of private cities. The seminar gathered a group of elites in London from all over the world who are engaged in the ecosphere of international cities, charter cities, free cities, and urban economic development models, mainly researchers. The speaker was Dr. Vera Kichanova, a Russian researcher of Ukrainian origin. Fortunately, I met Vera before and was able to participate in her presentation. Although she had not yet joined the Free City Foundation at that time, in the past ten or eight years, she has visited major players in this type of urban ecosystem around the world, and from her enthusiasm it is clear the topic is very dear to her. The seminar was held in a large classroom-style space with no reserved seats. Everyone sat down casually and listened while eating sandwiches. No one was whispering to others, and no one was playing with their mobile phones. Everyone listened intently. The content of the lecture was of course fresh and inspiring, and the questions asked afterwards were very insightful.

In March, I was honored to attend a second seminar which was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Governance & Society (CSGS) at King’s College London. At this event, Dr. Bryan Cheang, a Research Fellow at CSGS who is from Singapore gave a talk titled: Liberalism in East Asia: Lessons from the Development of Hong Kong and Singapore. I met Bryan by chance, and listening to him talking about this topic was really an eye-opener. He was able to communicate clearly to the audience in a way that is serious and rigorous, but he also has a relaxed and thoughtful way of thinking.  Having graduated with a Ph.D. from King’s College London, his academic foundation is extremely profound and broad, especially given his young age. Bryan spoke for about an hour about his forthcoming book, and after about an hour of his presentation , he took questions from the audience which were very enthusiastic. The questions kept coming, and were not finished for half an hour. Several Hong Kong people in exile in the UK also participated and asked him about a range of fascinating topics.

Of course, in the two discussions featuring such a great academic atmosphere, I enjoyed openly asked questions, and was interesting in how to deepen my involvement and stimulate everyone’s thinking.

After experiencing these two very enlightening seminars, I have the following observations; London can gather elites from all over the world to explore new issues and new directions, and the issues that are open for  discussion are not issues that are limited to or belonging to a certain country or faction, but instead involve debate regarding new models and new directions for the future development of human society. The format of the meeting is level among all participants and free. There were  no reserved seats and everyone is free to sit next to whoever they would like.  Although I have also participated in many seminars, think tank organizations, forums and other activities when I was in Hong Kong. But I was disappointed every time, because I will see a lot of reserved seats. Often the attendees and participants do not listen attentively, nor do they want to encounter new information or be inspired by the speakers. Hence even after a good seminar, in the end, it often felt like just an opportunity to impress the party or other officials.

Following the Chinese takes full control over Hong Kong in the last three years, open discussion of private cities and developmental models are likely to fall afoul of violating the National Security Law. This would lead to claims of subversion and even smearing of the central government, which would prevent any additional discussion on these important issues. Unfortunately, this kind of suffocating political environment will only cause Hong Kong society to regress and become increasingly authoritarian across a number of political and cultural spheres.

Mr Ivan Ko, CEO of Victoria Harbor Group


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