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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 6:08am

John Tsang Chun-Wah

John Tsang Chun-wah has served as Hong Kong’s financial secretary since appointed to the position by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2007. He was secretary for commerce, industry and technology between 2003 and 2006. He chaired the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in December 2005.

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Learn from Singapore's economic success, John Tsang tells Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 5:08pm

Hongkongers could learn from fierce rival Singapore's experience of using imported labour and reclaimed land to boost economic growth, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said yesterday.

Tsang risked controversy with the remarks, made on his official blog, after sharp opposition from unionists to the idea of simplifying labour imports to tackle a manpower shortage, and a negative response to reclamation outside Victoria Harbour.

The financial chief said Hongkongers should take note of the fact Singapore's gross domestic product per capita had grown by an average of 6 per cent for the years from 2003 to 2012, beating the economic performance of its fellow "Asian tigers", Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

"Over the past decade, Singapore has imported massive amounts of talent … It now has over 1.2 million foreign workers, accounting for more than a third of its working population," Tsang wrote. "She has also created almost 30 square kilometres of additional land by reclamation.

"Hongkongers may not necessarily buy the growth model of Singapore and we certainly can not just copy these policies. However, I believe everyone in Hong Kong has noticed that we are facing shortages of both manpower and land," he said. He called on Hongkongers to support the administration's efforts in these two areas.

In October, the government's population policy steering committee outraged labour groups by suggesting that a more flexible system for importing workers could meet shortages in areas such as construction and care for elderly people.

Tsang's comments came on the day more than 100 people marched from Chater Garden in Central to government headquarters in Admiralty to oppose labour imports and encourage the government to implement family-friendly policies that would free up more women to join the workforce.

Over the past decade, Singapore has imported massive amounts of talent
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah

Labour Party chairman and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan accused the government of taking a short cut by looking to bring in foreign labour instead of helping locals go to work.

Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a member of the steering committee, said some industries faced real labour shortages. But noting the concerns about imports competing with low-skilled local workers, Yip urged the government to take careful steps to avoid the exploitation of workers.

"Labour unions have a point, but they should also consider the potential benefits for local workers," Yip said, suggesting some locals could train the new recruits.

The government has touted five sites near the shoreline for reclamation as it looks to build land supply. But a government-commissioned report last month found negative public reactions to four of them. The idea of artificial islands, including a commercial "metropolis" off Lantau, has had a warmer reception.


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This article is now closed to comments

I lived in Singapore for the better part of the last 15 years (and now in HK).
There are many things Hong Kong could learn from Singapore. However, importing cheap labour and land reclamation should not be the first things to copy.
Mr. Tsang didn't mention that Singaporeans are now very fed up with the fact Singapore imported so many foreigners over the last 10 years (particularly low-skilled ones, few are protesting highly qualified foreigners). As usual, HK's politicians are just cherry-picking the easiest policies and are avoiding the difficult but important ones (e.g., the good long term planning that Singapore has is much harder to copy).
What our beloved Financial Secretary has shut his eyes to is that the majority of Singapore's foreign "talent" is low- or un-skilled labour, mostly from South Asia or Indonesia.
Oh my... but why am I surprised? If Tsang understood his job or cared about HK, he'd address the structural problems with our economy, unlock its wasted potential and redress its imbalances. Instead, we get gimmicky band-aid proposals that will play directly into the hands of, guess who, the tycoons and developers. This man needed to be removed from office years ago and the longer he stays, the further he runs our place into the ground.
Giving Singapore is not getting same growth from China, definitely they outperform hk by miles. Hk struggles with low tech such as tourist industry etc already hurting locals. As said before, I don't care how people criticize singapore growth, but one thing for sure singapore living conditions is much better than hk in housing and cleaner air. Singaporean average living space per person is double of hk. I don't know the living condition of their foreign labour force, but I'm quite sure they don't have to live in subdivided flat or cage home as in hk. I guess their foreign workers are probably living in a home bigger and cleaner home than most average hk family. 80%of their people are living in subsidized housing that are bigger and better than our hk average private housing. So what's the problem and why hk can't learn from it? Hk people should stop arguing point by point but look at the whole picture and ask ourselves how to improve the housing and air quality overall. When I say housing, I meant double the size as comparable to Singapore, not just getting a "roof" as claimed by government. That is very misleading.
John Tseng's use of Singapore to illustrate its economic success with mass importation of foreign lobour is short-sighted. He failed to mention that the tiny island is now struggling with massive discontent from its local people about jobs being taken away by the foreigners, and the huge strains on the social amenities and public infrastructure, thus lowering the quality of life there.
Singapore was, is and will always 'try' to outpace and/or out-do HK. Yes, they are chasers - as can been seen from the past, i.e. stock exchanges, commercial properties, container terminals, airport and tourism. Their move for a new airport came years after we [HK] had our new airport in Chak Lap Kok. They obviously needed to upgrade their existing airport facilities to cope with and lure tourism in order to compete with their rivals in the region, namely HK. If our FS seem to think that we should 'learn' from Singapore, then, he should look at the broader picture. Their immigration laws, especially, as well as their social structure. Reclamation is the only choice for Singapore as can be seen from the world map. If our FS is firing his gun to support his 'scare' tactic in his upcoming financial speech, he is upgrading Singapore's status and downgrading ours. That is not an argument! Cheap labour is not the solution. Reclamation too is a no. We should concern ourselves with our foremost and primary solution: our education system. The standard in all subjects have declined after 1997. Why? It is only too sad but true - look in the archives of the SCMP headlines from 1997-2002, on education. Should our FS look to Singpaore's FS for ideas? What a joke! Stick to your guns FS, if you have run out of ideas, retire. Let someone else have your position with foresight!
Mr FS,
Can we start with the CPF or Central Provident Fund to replace our MPF failure?
Ditto for the education and housing policies.
Manpower shortage? We need more people to build shopping malls and luxury flats? Let's learn from Singapore and bring back high tech to Hong Kong instead. The problem with imported labour is that it will all be unskilled from the Mainland and they will never go home.
Dai Muff
Singapore does not have a government determined to remove its financial autonomy and make it economically subservient to a certain large neighbour.
You are right ... up to a point. It was a mistake on the part of the Singaporean government to seize economic opportunities without considering the social impact as well as strains on infrastructure. They have admitted their mistake. Hence, over the last few years, the government has taken steps to slow down the rate of labour inflow. It has actively taken steps to boost public infrastructural spending, including housing and transport. If you visit the Lion City, you will realise that it is less congested than Hong Kong. Congestion, housing shortage and so forth is something that the Hong Kong government must deal with first. Still, the fact of the matter is, that like Singapore, Hong Kong has an ageing society and shrinking population. Unlike in Hong Kong however, Singaporeans shun jobs that Hongkongers are happy to take up, like in construction, retail and F&B. So the Singapore model may not wholly applicable to Hong Kong, but I think the broad realities and challenges that both cities face are somewhat similar in many respects



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