Stay true to Hong Kong’s core strengths
The city’s attraction as a gateway to China does not rest just on low tax and light regulation, but on the rule of law and core rights such as free flow of information
Despite mainland China’s opening up and maritime expansion, Hong Kong’s status as a free port still sets it apart. It is to be expected therefore that talk of developing free ports along the mainland’s coast prompts concerns about further erosion of the city’s competitive advantage. The latest example is support from Vice-Premier Wang Yang, newly appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee, for transforming key mainland ports including Shanghai into free-trade hubs on a par with those here and in Singapore. But such concerns for our role as a bridgehead between the mainland and the rest of the world for trade and investment in both directions tend to discount the importance of cornerstones of Hong Kong’s success, which have been preserved under the “one country, two systems” governing principle.
Wang did not elaborate on the strategies or policies needed to bring about the transformation, but his views in an article in People’s Daily followed President Xi Jinping’s address last month to Communist Party congress in which he said the mainland’s 11 free-trade zones would explore ways to build free-trade ports.
Industry insiders may have pointed out that a Shanghai free port comparable with Hong Kong will remain a pipe dream without a radical change of approach needed to transform the current system. But Hong Kong would be wise not to dismiss such ambitions. After all, next year is the 40th anniversary of the open-door policy and Xi has foreshadowed more important policy announcements. And lingering doubts whether the mainland would really open up were confounded last week by further liberalisation of the banking and finance sector.
Hong Kong’s attraction as a gateway to China does not rest just on low tax and light regulation, but on the rule of law and core rights such as free flow of information. These are among the cornerstones of the city’s success and no less important than the renowned “can do” Lion Rock spirit. We must be vigilant in safeguarding these values, otherwise the city’s bridgehead status will be tested. To nurture them, Hong Kong needs to be aware of the changing environment at home and among our neighbours, including the mainland, in order to swiftly adapt and exploit the benefits of one country, two systems.