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  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 6:51am

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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John Tsang, you urge Hong Kongers to learn from Singapore's success. That's a great piece of advice. Now, hear this. I urge the Hong Kong government to learn from the Singapore governmnet and the first thing the HK govt should learn is to make affordable housing available. Please don't blame land shortage. There are so many things that you can do first before we get to the matter of land. Have you tried closing the golf courses and all the land that is not being efficiently used ? Have you tried stopping the crazy population growth ? Have you tried, really tried, to tear down old flats and erect taller and bigger ones? You have done nothing like these but you have certainly spent a lot of time talking. The next thing you should learn is to stop talking so much, and focus on the doing even if it offends China, tycoons and interest groups. Have the guts to be LKY even though you will never be.
John Adams
I agree with dynamco
These days almost ANYTHING the duffer writes is almost certainly WRONG
Import a decent FS - or at least put the duffer out of his misery before once more he has to change feet before inserting into mouth
Or to put it another way Mr Tsang : "engage brain before putting mouth ( or blog) into gear"
Sorry all, but J. 'whiskers' Tsang has become the laughing stock of the HKSAR government
Actually we need to import a proper Financial Secretary to replace this duffer
preferably one with brains who does not drink coffee to keep him awake at work, who cannot stand French movies & who does not earn HKD 368k per month for doing sweet FA other than shooting off his dumb mouth
Innovate you moron !
Dear superdx,
Don't twist the fact. FYI, the riots in Little India were not started by Singaporeans protesting against foreign labour. The riots were started by foreign Indian workers after a drunken Indian worker was hit by a chartered bus hired to take some of them back to their dormitories. The workers took their anger out against police officers and ambulance crews. To say ''SG just went through riots in the street against all the imported labour'' is twisting the truth.
Dear dascaldasf,
Please do your research before you write on the rivalry between Singapore and HK. What you wrote at 12.52 pm are misinformation. FYI, Singapore Changi Airport opened on July 1, 1981, way before Chep Lap Kok whose opening, by the way, was delayed.Changi airport operates 3 terminals and construction will start on Terminal 4. Plans are already being talked about a massive Terminal 5 and a third runway. Singapore has much better public housing than HK. In fact Singapore's public housing has won a UN Habitat award.
This thinking from the FS is so simple minded. Copy someone else and be successful? No thanks. SG just went through riots in the street against all the imported labour. As heated as our protests get in HK, at least no one is torching cars and property. Get a grip you overpaid bureaucrats.
One riot does not make a summer, just as the major riots of the mid-late sixties in Hong Kong did not define HK, or the triads that continue to rule your city in parts.
Yes we can learn from Singapore but what is of more importance is that our bureaucrats should learn more from them. Strictly on improving livelihood and the economy they are open-minded and innovative unlike some in our own government. TSANG, please don't tell us to learn from them. You should be the first to do that.
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!
I'm sorry your knowledge of Singapore vis-a-vis HK is really quite out of this world. The MPF was inspired by the CPF. InvestHK was inspired by the EDB. Your new one-stop Maritime Bureau is clearly a copy of the same agency that has existed in Singapore for years. And for your information, Singapore is not creating a new airport but merely expanding it to meet demand. Its first international airport was Kallang, near where the new SportsHub is located (won't your Kai Tak SportsHub come years after this in trying to compete with Singapore as the sports event management city in Asia?), followed by Paya Lebar, and then Changi way back in 1981. In fact, one can say that CLK was a response to Changi. So please don't make me laugh in saying that Singapore will always "try" to outpace Hong Kong. The fact of the matter is that Singapore has already outpaced Hong Kong in many regards, above all, in creating a better life for its citizens. Sure there is fierce rivalry between both cities. We can always learn from each other what that is relevant to our respective societies. It is true that reclamation is a necessary evil for Singapore given its size. But Hong Kong is not that much bigger (1100km2 compared to 720km2) you know, but with a bigger population (7.2m compared 5.4m) and made more congested by hoardes of tourists from the mainland. Is land reclamation a solution for HK? Well as long as they choose the right locations and not plant an islet in Vic Harbour!




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