Hong Kong and Singapore have much to gain from cooperation
Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s long-overdue visit to Singapore has highlighted the mutual benefits of learning from each other
Given the rivalry between Hong Kong and Singapore, nine years is a long time between visits to Singapore by Hong Kong’s leader. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has not only put this right within a month of taking office, but chose the city’s greatest regional competitor for her first overseas visit. This says a lot about her view of the importance of enhancing cooperation with the region. Both sides have much to gain from it in terms of diversifying their economies and seizing the opportunities of globalisation. Emphasis on mutual benefit makes a refreshing change from point-scoring comparisons between two cities that excel in global indices of economic freedom and competitiveness.
That said, Singapore’s invitation and Lam’s visit also sealed the restoration of normal ties after an incident that touched on China’s sovereign sensibilities. The two sides have moved on from the Terrex affair, when Hong Kong impounded nine Singaporean armoured vehicles of that name in transit by sea to Singapore from Taiwan, where they were used in military drills. They have since been released and, thanks to common sense, the matter has ended in legal argument in court involving a shipper’s responsibilities in the transport of strategic commodities, rather than in the political arena.
Be it politics, business or sport, fierce rivals can learn from each other. Hong Kong and Singapore are no exception. Our personal freedoms and Singapore’s housing achievements come to mind. On this trip Lam pledged to set up an academy for the city’s 170,000 civil servants after visiting a similar institution in Singapore, saying they were unaccustomed to thinking outside the box and should embrace new technology. They need to because, as key financial centres, the two cities will be seeking opportunities in China’s “Belt and Road” global trade initiative. Such an academy also has potential as a regional centre of excellence in governance.
Lam’s second stop, Bangkok, reflected Thailand’s popularity with tourists and its belt and road potential. She pointed out it also highlighted the importance of relations with Asean, with whom Hong Kong may sign a free-trade agreement by the end of the year.