Universal suffrage won't solve city's woes: HKU economist

City's biggest problems run far deeper than just its lack of democracy, HKU economist warns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 6:15am

Hong Kong faces a bleak future with or without universal suffrage, a leading University of Hong Kong economist warned.

The city's main problems are its declining workforce and its failure to invest in education, Professor Richard Wong Yue-chim argues.

"The population growth is stagnant, leading to ebbing manpower," Wong said. "We haven't invested enough in education either. These aren't things that can be changed by an improved political system."

His remarks come amid a heated debate on electoral reform, which has led some Beijing officials - including Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya - to warn that economic development could pay the price of the political struggle.

While Wong believes the "vanishing Hong Kong miracle" can be revived by encouraging immigration - especially from the mainland - and importing overseas talent, he says: "I see no incentive for the government to do it because many Hongkongers would disagree."

Speaking to mark the publication of a collection of his commentaries on the city's social and economic policies, Wong slammed the government for not adopting the right solutions to economic problems.

He said the government's approach to poverty, including the setting of an official poverty line, was "approaching a perfect political game".

"The making of the poverty line is a political issue," he said. "This estimate can't be too precise, given it was formulated within just 15 months," he said of the line, drawn at half of the median household income.

Wong said using such an approach - a relative, rather than absolute, definition of poverty - would mean endless subsidies but no solution to the problem.

"With a relative poverty definition … there will forever exist people defined as poor. Politicians will keep throwing public money at them," he said. "It will stop only when the government runs out of money."