Three steps for Hong Kong to reconnect with the world and regain its international lustre
- Shouting slogans and patronising preaching will not fix what ails Hong Kong after years of international isolation and talent exodus
- The city needs to reopen to the world, address concerns about the erosion of institutional and legal freedoms, and reclaim its place as Asia’s cultural capital
Hong Kong was once among the world’s leading cities – glistening, dazzling and empowered as a creative confluence of East and West. The past two-plus years of travel restrictions and seismic shifts in the city’s international standing have dealt a severe blow to its competitiveness. Time is running out for the city – which is still by far China’s freest – to reconnect with the world.
Yet, above all, he must reconnect Hong Kong with the world at large. After all, as a part of China, we should aspire to remain “Asia’s world city” instead of becoming “just another Chinese city”.
What about the mainland? Travel between Hong Kong and the mainland is essential as many Hong Kong businesses have close connections with their mainland compatriots. It would be ludicrous to suggest we should wholly disregard reconnecting with the rest of the country.
This is where Lee’s “result-oriented” ethos could help. Setting the objective of reopening to both the mainland and the rest of the world would require a degree of pragmatic acumen.
In short, provided sufficient vaccination rates are met, the Greater Bay Area could become the site for a pioneering progressive reopening, with Hong Kong again connecting the region with the world at large.
Second, the incoming administration should unambiguously address the worries of foreign investors and firms over the status of Hong Kong’s institutional and legal freedoms, as well as the question of whether their interests can be properly guaranteed.
Why does this matter? If Hong Kong is to remain an integral component of China’s economic liberalisation and opening up, then it must be an international, cosmopolitan business hub.
One potential olive branch would be to negotiate quarantine-free travel visas into the mainland for people with significant interests there, or to expedite the establishment of family offices and trusts. Hong Kong has a lot to offer; it must not go to waste.
If Hong Kong is to reconnect with the world, it must relight the spark of liberal, optimistic openness that has characterised the city for much of its modern history. This requires not just efforts from the administration but also a fundamental overhaul of the mindset that underpins civil society action.
Shouting slogans and patronising preaching will not save us. Less trash-talking and empty rhetoric, more reformist and progressive thinking – that is what we need.
Brian Wong is a DPhil in Politics candidate at Balliol College, Oxford, a Rhodes Scholar (Hong Kong 2020), and the founding editor-in-chief of the Oxford Political Review