2017 budget will keep Hong Kong focused on the future
Ken Chu says the city’s prosperity depends on how well it prepares for a changing world, and it will be well served by a government budget with an emphasis on nurturing talent and developing new industries
Almost 20 years after Hong Kong was returned to China, it remains a wealthy and prosperous city. Yet we cannot take for granted that the good times will last forever. They could vanish if we don’t strive to preserve them. There is an old Chinese saying: When rowing against the current, one will be driven backwards if one doesn’t try hard enough to go forward.
History is full of examples of the decline of once-great industrial cities and ports. A reason for their decline was their failure to transform or prepare for change. As Hongkongers, we must prepare and equip ourselves for the future. Also, we must maintain a mindset ready to deal with crises; at any moment, we should be prepared for the worst.
When will Shanghai overtake Hong Kong as a regional financial centre? When will mainland container ports displace our own? Hong Kong used to be the world’s busiest container port, but since 2005, its position has been eroded, overtaken by Shanghai and Singapore. It is said that just across the border, the Yantian container port is catching up fast.
Although we don’t know what the future holds, some emerging global trends can provide an idea. For example, we will see more use of artificial intelligence in diverse areas such as medical diagnosis, legal research, engineering, manufacturing, and even stock investment. Creativity, innovation and technology will increasingly pervade our everyday life and affect every way we conduct business or even fight a war.
We will also see the global geopolitical and economic power steadily shift to new emerging regions and developing countries and, if renowned futurist John Naisbitt is right, China will be a prominent game changer in this global transformation. According to the Conference Board, China’s contribution to global gross domestic product will surpass that of the US by 2018.
In light of this, Hong Kong is well positioned as a special administrative region of China. As Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying often points out, Hong Kong reaps double benefits as an SAR within China under “one country, two systems”. The challenge is how to contribute to China’s development as an emerging global economic superpower for mutual benefit, while leveraging our core advantages and values, such as strong telecommunications and transport infrastructure, well-established legal and financial systems, and a solid pool of professionals to sustain development.
Watch: Hong Kong budget 2017 – what’s in it for you?
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s budget wisely laid the groundwork for enhancing our human capital and nurturing new industries in an attempt to build a sustainable future for Hong Kong. He has also taken measures to relieve the burden on taxpayers and improve the livelihood of the underprivileged and the vulnerable. However, more efforts are required to provide a firm and long-term retirement scheme for our growing elderly population.
Chan is right that land and manpower are two major constraints on our economic growth. Hong Kong has a pressing need to find more land for future development and housing needs, and to improve living standards. This is why, as Chan noted, the Hong Kong 2030 Plus study – which maps the planning needs and spatial development for Hong Kong beyond 2030 – is so vital.
The government should step up efforts to highlight to the public the importance of this strategic study because an efficient and balanced use of our land resources will foster the growth of many sectors. For instance, the proposal for an East Lantau Metropolis, on reclaimed land in the waters between Lantau’s main island and Hong Kong Island, would be an ideal place to start afresh with low-carbon, liveable housing and an economic development cluster. This would avoid having to take away land from or near green areas or competing for land in urban areas.
Land is critical for housing supply, but also to provide larger apartments to raise living standards. And, as one of the world’s leading financial centres, Hong Kong must ensure an adequate supply of office space. Hence, we should welcome Chan’s budget announcement that the government will create more commercial floor space through various means, including reprovisioning existing government facilities in Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong and introducing a supply of commercial and office space in new developments, such as at the express rail link terminus and the new Central harbourfront.
To nurture future leaders and talent, Hong Kong needs to continue to invest in our children, and in our infrastructure. The budget proposes heavy investment in education, including in vocational training and the Continuing Education Fund to create more opportunities for school leavers. We have an obligation to provide a holistic education to empower our children to explore the world creatively and equip them with the knowledge and skills for the future economy, as well as a favourable environment to grow up in.
Science and technology are imperative, and the budget proposal to provide more funding and support for creative industries and technology start-ups is vital. By doing so, we can not only build a diversified economy alongside our pillar industries to bring more job opportunities, we can also ensure the sustainable development of our industries.
However, shouldn’t our primary and secondary school curriculums be adjusted to expose our children to science and computer knowledge at an early age and nurture their interest in it? After all, aren’t we determined to position Hong Kong as an innovation and technology hub? And children today are already completely at ease with smartphones and laptops.
Hong Kong must continue with infrastructure investment, which not only creates jobs but also enhances our competitiveness and productivity to advance development. We cannot afford to waste any more time because of the continuing efforts by opposition lawmakers to block funding for public works and infrastructure projects. The world around us is evolving fast, and will leave us far behind if we are not careful.
Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference