Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

A little something from Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am

Beijing's so-called gift stimulus measures offered to Hong Kong on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the handover are not considered by everyone to be a panacea to the city's economic ills.

In fact, while the measures may have excited tourism operators and retailers, the financial sector has been left nonplussed.

This mixed reaction to Beijing's largesse is in fact not new.

The local tourism and retail sectors - given their exposure to global downturns - have often been the main beneficiaries of central government efforts to boost Hong Kong's economy.

The financial sector, on the other hand, has often been left to fend for itself.

The relaxation of visa restrictions in 2003 to allow individual travellers from select mainland cities to visit Hong Kong, for example, was a big boost to many local restaurants, shops and hotel businesses.

In the latest stimulus effort, Beijing has approved a series of new policies to boost economic and cultural ties between Hong Kong and the mainland in six major fields ranging from financial services to tourism and retail.

Proposals to allow mainlanders to take cruises from Hong Kong is one high-profile move set to boost the local cruise and retail industry.

Kelvin Wong Tin-yau, chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Directors, said it was natural that the central government measures benefited tourism and retail more than the local financial sector.

'The Hong Kong stock market and banking system have developed very well and they don't need any more big boosts to help them develop their business,' Wong said. 'In contrast, China has always wanted to promote internal consumption and it is natural for it to want to boost the number of mainland tourists coming to Hong Kong.'

Most of the aid announced for the financial sector involves measures that had already been announced years ago but are only now being implemented. Yesterday, Beijing unveiled those promoting the integration of Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the Qianhai Bay Economic zone, including a range of taxes and special policies on the yuan. The Qianhai proposal, however, was first floated in 2009, with Beijing planning to turn the 15 square kilometre zone in Shenzhen close to Hong Kong's Yuen Long into the 'Manhattan of the Pearl River Delta'.

Also announced in 2009 but only happening now are exchange-traded fund (ETF) schemes to allow mainlanders to invest in Hong Kong stocks or the A-shares ETF for Hong Kong investors in mainland markets.

On Thursday, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing announced it was setting up a joint venture with the two mainland bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen to launch cross-border indices. This plan was first announced in August last year.

'These measures have been planned for a long time and I do not see them as a new gift,' said Chim Pui-chung, a Hong Kong legislator for the financial-services industry.

'It is good to see many of these long-awaited measures finally moving on from being just empty talk and to see the timetable and details,' Chim said. 'But they come at a bad time as the poor global investment market may hurt investor interests in these ETFs or other new products.'

The tourism proposals meanwhile have been heralded a substantial boost to the local sector.

Beijing's proposal to relax rules imposed on mainland cruise travellers so that they can visit more countries - including South Korea and Japan - on itineraries that include stopovers in Hong Kong and Taiwan should make cruises via Hong Kong more attractive.

The move is seen as an important measure to boost cruise tourism before Hong Kong's new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal starts operation next year.

Allan Zeman, chairman of Ocean Park and founder of the entertainment district centred on Lan Kwai Fong in Central, said more cruise tourists would benefit all of the city's retailers, restaurants, bars and Ocean Park. 'Tourism offers a lot of job opportunities in Hong Kong. This is an important sector so Beijing has seen the importance of new measures to boost the sector in Hong Kong.'

Zeman disagreed with some commentators who said the proposals were nothing new.

'When your friends give you a gift, will you complain it is too small or looks too old? There is absolutely no way you should say something like that,' Zeman said.

'I think many of the new measures announced by Beijing are intended to boost the local economy and to help further internationalisation of the yuan. This is a win-win situation and we should be gracious and give the central government a note of thanks.'

Gordon Yuen Tien-yau, chairman of A&A Retail Management, which sells cameras in Hong Kong and Macau and last year set up a wine distribution arm called Perfect Vintage, also welcomed the new measures.

'More cruise ships from China means more retail opportunities for businesses. But my only concern is that most of these cruise passengers will just shop in Kowloon, not on Hong Kong side, which is where my shop is located,' Yuen said.

He also said measures to encourage the use of yuan in the city would be a good move.

'We welcome yuan in the shop. I think this is good news for investors to get access to more yuan products in Hong Kong. At the moment, I think we have to seriously consider the value of the Hong Kong dollar's relationship with the US dollar. The devaluation of the Hong Kong dollar has already been affecting our daily lives,' Yuen said.