Hong Kong's competitiveness has been much debated in recent weeks. A survey to be released today - on the relative appeal of our city to people from other parts of the world - will raise fresh concerns. As we report today, the survey will show that Hong Kong has fallen from 20th to 32nd place among the best locations for Asian expatriates in ECA International's annual study of 257 cities around the world. Among Asian locations it has fallen from third to fifth place. The reasons given by the organisers of these rankings are ones that certainly worry Hong Kong people - air pollution and the health risks posed by infectious diseases, as well as recent food scares. Previous research has also cited typhoons and issues including availability of accommodation and utilities. Because of such negative aspects, Hong Kong for the first time joined the list of cities where hardship allowances are considered necessary to attract and keep foreign talent. This is, perhaps, overstating the case. But the survey is a reminder that Hong Kong cannot afford to be complacent - especially where quality of life issues are concerned. Only so much can be read into such surveys. A city cannot be all things to all people; we are, after all, individuals with different likes and dislikes, whether from the mainland, elsewhere in Asia or beyond. Surveys that rank cities according to how desirable they are perceived to be are, therefore, subjective by their nature. Our rival Singapore led the rankings, based on its high-quality transport, communications and health facilities, and low health risks and crime rates. The conclusion of the findings is that the city state is a healthier, cleaner and safer place in which to live than Hong Kong, and therefore more attractive to expatriates. These are truly subjective conclusions; those who have been in Singapore during bouts of smoke haze from forest fires in Indonesia would raise an eyebrow, as would those who lived through the outbreaks of bird flu and Sars here and who know that our city is now probably one of the safer places when it comes to protection systems against infectious diseases. No survey is necessary for knowing that both cities have advantages and disadvantages and it is a matter of preferences and circumstances as to which is considered better from the expatriate viewpoint. Those transferred from one to the other may have reservations about the move, but in the end there will be little to quibble about lifestyle and conditions of service. For such reasons, it is a surprise to find out that, while Singapore is ranked first in the survey of Asian cities for Asian expatriates, Hong Kong comes in four positions lower. In the ranking for best cities for West Europeans, Hong Kong ranks below cities including Canberra, Copenhagen and Basel. While these are all eminently livable places, Hong Kong also has much to offer. ECA's general manager has admitted as much, believing that Hong Kong provides powerful draws to expatriates when it came to business opportunities and career prospects. But with the threat of a bird flu pandemic gripping global attention and with Hong Kong perceived as likely to be at the epicentre of any potential outbreak, it is understandable that an expatriate with a young family might shy away from moving here. The risks should not be understated or exaggerated. Efforts should, however, be stepped up to tackle air pollution, make our immigration rules more flexible and - especially - improve the education opportunities for the children of the talented people we wish to bring here from the mainland and overseas. Chambers of commerce have - rightly - been warning that the shortage of places in international schools is blunting Hong Kong's competitiveness. The results of surveys such as the one to be released today deserve our attention. There is no need to overreact. But constant effort is needed to make Hong Kong an even better place in which to live and work.