Hong Kong’s leader on Wednesday unveiled plans to revive the business center in hopes of drawing back international expertise after a talent exodus, but vowed not to hold back on a political crackdown that has transformed the city.
John Lee, a former security chief anointed by Beijing, delivered a policy speech prioritizing the revival of a recessionary economy and maintaining security, while acknowledging that tens of thousands of people had left a city that serves as a gateway to China and a regional business center.
“In the past two years, the local workforce has shrunk by about 140,000,” he said. “In addition to actively nurturing and retaining local talent, the government will proactively scour the world for talent.”
The former British colony has recently been going through its most tumultuous period since its 1997 handover to China.
Huge and sometimes violent democracy protests three years ago were followed by sweeping dissent, as well as some of the world’s strictest coronavirus pandemic rules, many of which remained in effect long after rivals reopened.
The city, which last month only abolished mandatory quarantine for international arrivals, has seen its deficit rise as its border with mainland China remains nearly closed due to Beijing’s strict zero-covid rules.
Lee’s speech offered his blueprint to reverse that downturn, including a new talent scouting agency, a HK$30 billion ($3.8 billion) fund to attract foreign companies and new rules to make it easier to hire foreigners in 13 key professions. to take.
The city will give preferential treatment to “top talent”, described as those who earn HK$2.5 million or more per year and graduates from the top 100 universities around the world who have relevant work experience.
Even with investor-friendly measures, it will be difficult to restart Hong Kong.
Lee took office in July at a time of rising global interest rates, fears over China’s zero-covid economy, uncertainty over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and dents in Hong Kong’s business-friendly reputation.
Hong Kong’s stock market has lost more than a quarter of its value since the beginning of the year, one of the worst performing in the region. In trading on Wednesday morning, it fell 1.2 percent.
‘Stability is a precondition’
After nearly three years, the city is gradually moving away from its version of China’s zero-covid policy, which has not kept the virus out and has sealed the city internationally.
Authorities have lifted the unpopular hotel quarantine for inbound travelers and relaxed some social distancing rules.
But the pace of reopening is still lagging behind regional rivals like Singapore, which has launched its own charm offensive to attract talent and has been re-lauded as a global transport hub.
Lee stressed that the government would proceed with further national security legislation and possible new rules on “false information”.
“Hong Kong’s development will not allow any delay. Social stability is the precondition for our development, and we must get rid of any interference,” Lee said.
Many departing residents have cited ongoing political repression as a primary reason for leaving.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 following anti-democracy protests the year before, reversing the city’s once outspoken vibe and banishing most dissent.
Most prominent local democracy activists are either in prison, awaiting trial or have fled abroad as schools have been ordered to turn students into Chinese patriots.
Lee’s policy speech – which lasted two hours and 45 minutes – also included major infrastructure projects to boost the economy and plans to provide more housing in a city with one of the world’s least affordable real estate markets, something successive Hong Kong governments have failed to address.
© 2022 AFP
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