Visa Inc., Apple,
and Hong Kong:
Together again
for the first time

Apple & Hong KongTwo weeks ago I blogged about what happened when Apple tried to stand on principle (something I admire) against the Great Firewall of China. Brief recap: China shut down iTunes Movies and iBooks for a month. The loss of 700 million Internet users being nothing to sniff at, Apple capitulated (something I understand).

But Apple and China are by no means through. Visa, Inc. just announced plans to use Apple Pay to secure all online payments for online payments in Hong Kong.

Now, you could argue that Hong Kong isn’t really China, and you’d be right. Sort of. Trouble is, I could argue that it is China, and I’d be right, too. Sort of. It might (or might not) clarify things if I pointed out that Hong Kong’s official name is Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. There’s a clue to this mystery in the “Special Administrative Region” part.

During talks regarding the UK’s relinquishing Hong Kong’s sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kongers feared losing to the communist government the autonomy they had come to enjoy under British rule. The PRC and the UK hammered out a solution in the form of Special Administrative Regions, or SARs. (Not to be confused with the unfortunate, similar acronym SARS, for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.)

The idea behind SARs is to allow for the best of both worlds. Hong Kong has its own government, laws, property ownership, legislature, currency, police force, national sports teams, passports and immigration policies, and more. But when it comes to foreign affairs and national defense, Beijing remains in charge. And SAR status comes with a 50-year expiration date. What changes, if any, will take place in Hong Kong in 2047 is anyone’s guess. Hopefully Visa Inc. and Apple will have had plenty of time to become established.

The authority to designate SARs was written into the PRC’s 1982 constitution. Hong Kong became an official SAR when the UK relinquished its sovereignty in 1997. Macau is also a SAR, and the PRC may create others.

For all I know, the People’s Republic of China and Apple have settled their disagreements. Either way, it appears that Hong Kong has the autonomy to proceed with Visa, Inc., even as it proceeds with Apple Pay.

(It is appropriate for me to pause here to remind readers—and myself—that I am no international law expert. I’m a writer doing the best he can.)

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