High property prices and inadequate infrastructure were more serious threats to Hong Kong's competitiveness than Occupy Central, speakers at the South China Morning Post's Redefining Hong Kong debate said yesterday.
"We have no problems with Occupy Central. It's not a huge issue. I don't think it will slow down business," said Ian Bolin, chief transformation officer of Infiniti, the luxury brand of Japanese car giant Nissan Motor. Infiniti's global headquarters is in Citibank Tower in Central.
Occupy Central would also not affect Digital Realty, because its Hong Kong staff could work from home using online technology, said Kris Kumar, the US data centre firm's Asia-Pacific head.
"There is always something political going on," said Robert Partridge, Asia-Pacific private equity leader at EY, one of the big four accounting firms. "Business always goes on. Is it changing the course of Hong Kong? No."
Rupert Hogg, chief operating officer of Cathay Pacific, said: "I grew up in Scotland. The political debate in Hong Kong is insignificant compared to Scotland."
Debate over whether Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom is at fever pitch.
Hogg warned: "The big competitive threat is if we don't grow the infrastructure as the market demands. The danger is if we don't build the infrastructure, it won't capture the growth in the region, and the growth will be diverted to other areas."
About 8 per cent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product came from the aviation-related sector, and having a world-class airport was critical to the city's economy, he said.
"If we don't get a third runway, we won't have the capacity to keep growing. The advantage we have at the moment is not guaranteed," Hogg said.
What was critical for Hong Kong was information technology infrastructure to ensure international connectivity, Kumar said.
"For us, Hong Kong's high property prices are definitely a problem. We need lots of space for our servers," he said.
Digital Realty chose Singapore over Hong Kong for its Asia-Pacific headquarters because it was easier to set up the centre in the Lion City and Hong Kong's property prices were higher, Kumar said.
Partridge said Singapore and Taipei were competing with Hong Kong, and competition from mainland cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou would grow.
The key for Hong Kong to remain competitive as a financial hub was creating innovative financial products to attract capital from the mainland and other places, he said.
Partridge said the Qianhai special economic zone in Shenzhen and the Shanghai free-trade zone did not have to be a threat, because Hong Kong offered transparency and an attractive tax regime.
"They provide an alternative," he said. "It's not either-or."