A bout of mild mortification gripped the Department of Foreign Affairs this week, or at least should have, following a revelation by The Times newspaper. The revelation was of lobbying by property magnate Ivan Ko, who sought to plant a city of potentially 500,000 Hong Kong exiles somewhere in the 26 counties.
Revealed by means of some savvy Freedom of Information requests, the exposé portrayed extensive lobbying by the founder and CEO of the property giant Victoria Harbour Group (VHG) with Department officials, and the Irish consulate in Hong Kong.
Given the working title ‘Nextpolis’, six potential sites nationwide were broached. Each had the potential to break ground on the so-called charter city meant to house Hong Kong expats in the form of an economic autonomous zone.
Complete with its own tax regime and partial lawmaking capabilities, the zone would initially play host to over 50,000 primarily Chinese residents before ballooning to 500,000 by mid century. Of these it was to be expected that half of those domiciled in the city would be Hong Kongese in origin with 15-30% being Irish.
Born out of fears of a Beijing-led clampdown following the passing of the contentious Security Law, the plan is part of the growing trend among the international elite searching to create international charter cities more tailored to a fast-moving business environment than outmoded nation states. Charter cities are semi-independent economic zones within states with a parallel system of governance aimed towards streamlining business transactions.
On the podcast ‘Charter Cities’, Mr Ko outlined how he had been in contact with Irish officials since last October, seeking 50 square kilometers for an initial centre of`100,000. The post-Brexit financial landscape, as well as Ireland’s established medical technology sector, make Ireland an attractive site for the project.
This consultation with Mr Ko following months of informal talks was eventually shelved for being too radical by department officials. However the question remains, why did the Department even take such an inquiry seriously?
In a state grappling with a housing crisis, as well as structural issues around capital investments, both buoyed on in part by overloading the economy with corporate investment, did officials think it would be prudent to invite potentially 250,000 foreigners to our shores?
Whatever the short term economic gains, did the idea of merely signing away chunks of the country to effectively foreign plutocrats really have to be thought about for more than a moment? Despite the erroneous nature of the proposals, the notion of a charter city is picking up steam, especially in light of the turbulence in Hong Kong. Elements of our elite and certainly business community would salivate at the chance to have a miniature Hong Kong on our shores.
In the United Kingdom plans are underway to liberalise migration laws to enable considerable population transfers over the coming years should a clampdown proceed on the city state. This gels perfectly well with the post-Brexit economic model envisaged by Johnson and Tory upper echelons, of transforming Britain into a liberalised trading outpost.
Indeed, this is not the only venture with similar undertones from Chinese punters lobbying the Irish state to effectively plant citizens into the country. While Dublin nurtures a vibrant Chinatown in the North inner city, Athlone was scouted as being the potential economic hub for Chinese capital as the state tethered on economic collapse post-Crash, even furnished with its own airport.
In 2015 it was revealed to some media bemusement that Whitehall seniority in London contemplated the planting of millions of Hong Kong residents into the six counties mid-Troubles. Sardonically titled ‘The Replantation of N. Ireland’, the plan foresaw the creation of a city state near Derry to prepare for the eventual migration of Hong Kong citizens following the handover to the Chinese.
Considering the Irish State is preparing to welcome a million additional residents through the medium of mass immigration over the next 20 years, what difference should another half a million affluent Hong Kongese residents really make?
If Ireland is just to be demoted to the rank of a consumer colony with its primary aim to generate GDP, surely another injection of foreign labour and capital should be welcomed. Those on the left who forward an open borders position do so to the laughter of international plutocrats, eager to carve up willing nations to their benefit. Similarly, the faction of conservatives and libertarians, who actively flirt with such notions. are equally guilty of betraying society for the sake of mere economic ideology.
A miniature version of Nextpolis already exists contemporaneously in the form of the Dublin docklands, home to a variety of tech titans like Google and Facebook. With a staggering 92% foreign born population and with average incomes at €127,000, it is a vista into the demographically dystopian society awaiting us should globalism prevail. A place where nations are effectively over-glorified industrial lots, with the residual natives priced into pauperism to make way for a transnational cosmopolitan workforce.
The end result of the desacralisation of an Irish homeland and the cultural rites and rituals that supported it led us to this point, where chunks of our nation can be flogged at the altar of GDP. All of the mind games around demoting an essentialist notion of Irishness merely lays the groundwork for handing over the Irish nation to foreign capitalists like Ko. The half-century long process of liberalisation in Ireland has undermined the nation to the point that economic vultures can just swoop in to pluck up the remains, at bargain basement prices.
Similar to the overreliance on American tech-giants through the medium of FDI, any such charter city would be a symptom of one thing and one thing only. The moribund nature of the 26-county administration is one that is happy to flog swathes of the nation as foreign planter colonies to the highest bidder. It is cause for concern that even our homeland is up for grabs.
At this rate, the impending century will be a rather grim experience for the Irish on our home turf. Potential planter cities dotted across the landscape, Dublin turned into an overpriced Google tech-colony, rural areas turned over to industrial farming with the remaining dilapidated towns disappearing under the pressures of emmigration. The lingering Irish will find very little succour as part of whatever impersonal EU federal state materialises, struggling to comprehend a society entirely different from that of their fathers.
Whatever euphemism is attached to this or similar proposals, or the process of mass immigration into Ireland in general, this is nothing short of colonisation and will ultimately leave the Irish nation short changed no matter what the immediate largess.
If we are to take a leaf out of the book of the Asiatic nations, let us examine the beefing up of citizenship laws and the right of foreigners to buy property. Across East Asia, from Thailand to Japan, foreigners are prohibited from the same privileges as indigenous citizens, as opposed to modern Ireland that hands out citizenship with minimal requirements.
The only national recurse as if there was any other way will be setting the tempo to our own destiny, liberated from the machinations of international capital and the liberal bureaucrats who enable it.
Whatever the location of Ko’s charter city, it would no doubt have been on fields that have nurtured generations of Irish families and which have witnessed our collective experience as a people. While these fields function merely to produce economic wealth in the mind of neoliberal charlatans, they are far more sacred in the eyes of the Irish.
Nextpolis may have been strangled in the crib for the moment, but the same may come when global plutocrats may achieve their goal. It is time the Irish start to value their home once more to the point of defending it from opportunists, if not don’t be surprised if it is taken from under us and with it our place in the world.
Images from recas-group.com and Twitter used for reporting purposes