Hong Kong has just suffered its biggest loss of residents to emigration since before China resumed sovereignty in 1997. Then they were fleeing uncertainty about the future. Many returned after confidence was restored. Now confidence is being put to the test again, after Beijing tightened its political and security grip on the city. Pandemic restrictions have compounded negative perceptions at home and abroad. Reversing that sentiment is a priority. It does not just call for redoubled efforts to reject criticism of political reform and the new security law and allay negative perceptions. The new administration of Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu must have a credible pitch to persuade people to stay here and come here, to convince them once again that gloomy predictions of the city’s future can be proved unjustified, and that its vibrant competitiveness is undiminished. Lee has made a start, pledging to fight for global talent in innovation and technology . His maiden policy address in October will be scrutinised for promised detail. Hopefully, the blueprint will also address concerns among the city’s own people that are undermining confidence. It is not an option to become resigned to the loss of so many of the young and middle-aged. The city is not going to make up for it just by attracting talent from overseas. The emigration numbers just announced by the government make a compelling case for decisive action. They show more than 113,000 residents left the city between mid-2021 and mid-2022, after a loss of 89,000 the previous 12 months. The exodus exacerbated the ageing of the population reflected by 61,600 deaths in the period compared with only 35,100 births. The population fell from 7,413,100 in the 12 months to 7,291,600. Given that it is also ageing, the loss of talent implicit in those figures must be addressed. 113,200 residents leave Hong Kong in 12 months, census figures show Hong Kong faces intense rivalry for talent amid the pandemic and heightened geopolitical tensions. It could be more competitive with regional rivals such as Singapore, by offering incentives to resettle here. Housing, educational opportunities and health services are examples of legitimate concerns. They are universal benchmarks. It is important to remember they are just as relevant to the retention of local talent. Population expert Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai says the emigration wave may persist for three years as young professionals take relaxed immigration pathways to other countries. We cannot afford that, or the effect on the education sector or the skilled workforce. Confidence in the city is therefore paramount – confidence it has not lost its vibrancy, underpinned by commitment to fundamental values such as the rule of law, free speech and free flow of information.