From copyright furore to food trucks, Hong Kong commerce chief Greg So leaves behind a mixed tenure

In nine years at the bureau, the former solicitor had to navigate broadcast regulation, intellectual property, promoting tourism and more

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 9:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 9:32am

In about a week, outgoing Hong Kong commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung will head off on a six-month holiday after nine years working in the government. When he does, he will leave behind a tenure at the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau marked by a mixed record.

The more controversial items that passed So’s desk include broadcast regulation, intellectual property protection, promoting tourism and even monitoring the city’s changeable weather.

One of the hottest potatoes he handled was outspoken businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay’s bid for a free-to-air broadcast licence in 2013. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his advisers rejected Wong’s request for HKTV’s licence because of an unspecified “basket of factors”, sparking protests.

As bureau chief, So defended the government’s “collective decision” back then, but recently confessed he personally did not agree with it.

So told local broadcaster RTHK this month that he almost cried when he had to announce the news, knowing that 300 of the company’s employees would lose their jobs because without the licence, the project had to be aborted.

During his term he also drew public ire for pressing ahead with a contentious copyright bill, which many critics said would trample free speech on the internet. Amid strong opposition from pan-democratic legislators and other activists, the bill was abandoned in 2016. So admitted it was a major defeat of his career, saying the city’s copyright laws are seen as outdated by the global business community.

Despite bad patches, the former solicitor scored a few victories during his tenure.

This year, got HK$5.45 billion from the public coffers to fund a six-year facelift project for Hong Kong Disneyland – in which the government is the biggest shareholder – to battle fierce competition from regional rivals.

Some observers blasted its weak position in the partnership with the American entertainment giant. But the administration said it expected the project to attract up to 9.3 million visitors a year by 2025 – up from 6.1 million in 2016 – and create 5,000 to 8,000 jobs.

Under So’s command, the city’s first batch of 16 food trucks was rolled out at tourist spots in February, after two years in the pipeline. The scheme was unveiled by So’s former boss John Tsang Chun-wah in 2015, to diversify the city’s tourist offerings. But the scheme was dealt a blow early on, when two operators quit, blaming in part operating restrictions. As So disappears into the sunset, the question festering is whether the trucks might do the same.