Mr. Shangkong

New property tax a blow to the Hong Kong dream

Government move to impose extra housing stamp duty on non-permanent residents penalises many taxpayers hoping to find a place to call home

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 8:03am

We all know about the American dream. But let me tell you about a Hong Kong dream.

I have a friend. Let's just call him J.

Two years ago, J, who was born in Guangzhou, made a decision that surprised most friends, and some of his family. He gave up a diplomatic job in Beijing and applied to the University of Hong Kong to do a graduate degree in international relations, which he completed about a year ago.

J and I went to the same HKU programme and we became good friends. In the final few months of the programme J, like many other full-time students, struggled to get an internship that might lead to a job offer. There aren't many diplomatic job opportunities in Hong Kong, so J ended up with a public relations firm, where he is now a full-time employee.

When J worked in Beijing, he was the chief interpreter for a well-known diplomat from an Asian country. Now, as an associate with the public relations firm in Hong Kong, having a master's degree didn't get him much of a raise from what he was earning in Beijing.

I once asked J if he thought he made the wrong decision to move to Hong Kong. He said "no", because the reason he came was more about his own "Hong Kong dream", and not just about making money. He never spelled out his dream exactly, but it's not hard to imagine what was going through his mind.

Hong Kong is a place where you can get connected to the entire world and not be constrained by the "Great Firewall", which is aimed at keeping people on the mainland from visiting websites such as Facebook.

Hong Kong is also a city where you can freely debate with your professors the causes of the Cultural Revolution and the legacy of Taiwan. And even if you disagree with your teacher on such politically sensitive topics, you don't need to worry about getting a bad grade.

These two things that many local Hong Kong people might take for granted mean a lot to people like J, who left good jobs and probably bigger flats on the mainland to chase their Hong Kong dreams. It's much like immigrants who struggle to get to the United States to realise their dreams in cities such as New York or Los Angeles.

When you embrace a city, you gradually start to call it home, and then you naturally consider making your home there.

J recently married and wants to buy a small flat that costs less than HK$5 million. He has some savings for the down payment and has his eye on a property in Sha Tin. The original plan was to make the purchase of the flat a sort of gift for him and his wife, so she could relocate from Guangzhou where she works.

But on October 26, his dream started to look more like a nightmare when the government unexpectedly announced an extra 15 per cent stamp duty for homebuyers who were not Hong Kong permanent residents.

"Do you think the policy is a fair one for a non-permanent resident like me? I am really disappointed. After all, I am also a Hong Kong taxpayer," J said.

Well, is it fair? And what does it say about the kind of international city Hong Kong says it wants to be?


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit