Hong Kong must seek ways to build on its advantages

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 2:22am


Constructive criticism is not always easy to take, especially for a place as successful as Hong Kong. Yet, if we ignore our critics, we miss the opportunity to identify weaknesses and make improvements. The claim by the nation's third most important political figure and Beijing's point man for our city, Zhang Dejiang , that we are losing our competitive edge, therefore should not be brushed aside. His observation is a reminder that we risk falling behind if we avoid problems and fail to regularly assess and hone strengths.

The focus of Zhang's concern was the economy, singled out as being the driver of development and improving livelihoods. A lack of attention to that reality meant Hong Kong was losing out to regional competitors and would continue to do so to its detriment unless distractions were set aside, he warned. It is a matter of debate whether our city has lost its edge. The World Economic Forum's annual competitiveness survey shows otherwise, while our real effective exchange rate is markedly lower than that for most of our Asian neighbours. Hong Kong is clearly still a good place to invest and do business.

But Hong Kong also has a maturing economy and a fast-ageing population. High rents and property prices increase business risks. Air pollution, a lack of international school places and cramped living conditions deter potential overseas talent. The gap between rich and poor is ever-widening and there is concern in some quarters that politicking by interest groups is holding up progress.

Our city has a proud record of innovating and adapting. In a mere two decades, it transformed itself from a manufacturing powerhouse for textiles, electronics and toys into a world-class financial centre, all the while using proximity to mainland China to its every advantage. Innovation and creativity still abound, although at a low level and not as much is as homegrown as would be expected. To our advantage, we have a government that is largely hands-off when it comes to business, a sturdy legal framework, strong connections to international financial markets and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Our strengths are not cause to ignore problems. Nor is having pulled through regional and global economic crises cause to rest on our laurels. We have to always be searching for ways to shore up and build on our competitive advantages. That requires a committed and determined leadership that has wide support. Zhang has provided a timely wake-up call.