Our city's in good shape, no matter what they say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am

It came as something of a surprise to learn that experts at a government seminar in Guangzhou regard Hong Kong as a bad example for mainland cities to follow. We should acknowledge at the outset that we have our problems, let's not quibble about that. We face an ongoing battle to overcome suffocating air pollution, our wealth gap widens, core sectors in our economy face intense competition from regional rivals, and frustration continues to mount over the pace of political reform to list just a few of our immediate difficulties. But, to argue that Hong Kong is a city of lost opportunity is probably a little harsh. We trust that this was more of a rhetorical flourish intended to make the point that we could do better and others might take heed of our shortcomings.

Even the most advanced mainland cities, Shanghai included, would acknowledge that Hong Kong has built some truly wonderful infrastructure, including projects completed in the past decade, and that more is in the works. By almost any measure of development, Hong Kong compares favourably with top-ranked global cities. We maintain the rule of law, continue to fight corruption and apply the best international standards to much of what we do. Our thriving and independent media and freedom of speech remain the envy of many regional capitals. Despite the absence of the universal suffrage we have been promised, our government remains relatively transparent and mindful of public opinion.

Perhaps the 15-member committee of experts from the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau used different measures to judge performance. At their first meeting last week, they spoke of Hong Kong's 'lost decade', during which the opportunities afforded by a booming economy were said to have been squandered by a lack of vision. One member from the Bank of China (Hong Kong), Tse Kwok Leung, was critical of our economy being too narrowly focused on areas like property. Officials looking for inspiration should turn elsewhere, was the clear message.

On property, Tse might have a point. Mainland cities show every sign of emulating us on this score. And, we have probably fallen short in our bid to fast-track Hong Kong as a science and technology incubator. But, Hong Kong is a proven survivor. Our evolution from a manufacturing base in the 1960s to a regional and international financial centre in the following two decades is a model other governments in developing parts of the world have envied and tried to emulate. We have diversified with tourism and become a major air travel hub. Our city is a magnet for mainland visitors attracted by our shopping, health care and, increasingly, education. All the time we have maintained our historic role in trade and shipping. And proving our adaptability and ability to seize an opportunity, in just three years we have become the world's leading wine auction centre, having overtaken New York and London.

Indeed, our economic achievements were praised by Vice-President Xi Jinping when he met Hong Kong delegates to the National People's Congress last month. The 12th national five-year plan's chapter on Hong Kong and Macau confirms Beijing's support for our city's direction, backing our position as an international finance, shipping and trade hub. Those are reasons enough to continue following our lead. It is because of those achievements that our city is in such strong financial shape and draws foreign talent in these areas. It cannot be said with certainty that Hong Kong will always be successful. Just like every other city, we have got to remain open to ideas and be ready to adapt and change.