Given the Netlab's work for the Uneven Growth show at MoMA, the unfolding events in Hong Kong demand comment. Although they events are dramatic and their immediate outcome is entirely unclear at the moment, they aren't anything we should be surprised about. Last spring I posted a scenario that we developed for the show titled Hong Kong, 2047. It's worth taking a look at if you haven't had a chance to do so yet. Essentially, our point is that the sort of crisis being played out in Hong Kong is evidence of a growing tension between the mainland and the coastal cities. The mainland has two routes it can follow: a humiliating capitulation along the route toward losing power and a crackdown that will make the eventual lose power exponentially greater.
Simply put, the demographic bubble in the PRC will collapse over the next couple of decades. As it does so, coastal cities like Shanghai, Guangdong, Hangzhou, and Nanjing will grow in both population and power. Such coastal cities will be closer to New York or Tokyo in outlook than to the declining inland of the PRC. If the CPC has any sense, they understand that this is coming their way and that the situation in Hong Kong is a precussor to broader tensions between the mainland and emerging coastal cities (or city-states) in the next forty years. The sort of controls that China places over the Internet today will be harder to exercise in the future as technology will allow ways to route around restrictions to proliferate: the new emphasis on unbreakable security protection in the iPhone 6 is an example of this new condition.
Undoubtedly members of the CPC—and certainly the PLA—will want to crack down hard on the protestors in Hong Kong. If this will bring temporary relief, it will also make the inevitable process of dissociating the rising coastal city-states from the mainland more difficult.
Now again, we're talking about a process that will take decades, not something with immediate and obvious consequences so don't look for independence flags to fly over Guangzhou anytime soon. More geriatric forces in the CPC will be tempted to go for the quick fix since they won't be around to see the consequences, but the tensions we outlined in our document seem to be ever more real today. What happens in the next few days may just decide the tenor of future negotiations when the PRC can no longer act with such impunity.