How Hong Kong has flourished since 1997 and proved its Western detractors wrong
- Hong Kong has defied international doomsayers and gone from strength to strength as its economic development has become more aligned with mainland China’s
- China’s economic growth has helped boost Hong Kong’s standing as a financial hub, drawing in business and talent from around the world
A quarter of a century ago, as Hong Kong prepared for its return to the motherland, the international media and academic consensus at the time was that the “Death of Hong Kong” was upon us. The notable wave of emigration from the city in the mid-1990s understandably added fuel to this narrative.
Statistics released by the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau also suggest that Hong Kong remains an attractive choice for overseas talent. The number of people coming to work in the city via the General Employment Policy and the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals rebounded last year, with an almost 20 per cent increase compared with 2020.
The city continues to be an ideal place for businesses from all over the globe to set up operations. The total number of registered non-local companies rose from about 13,700 in 2020 to 14,400 at the end of February this year.
However, countries like the UK and France have kept a stable or even growing business presence in the city. This is a testament to the World Bank’s ranking of Hong Kong as the third-most-business-friendly economy in the world in 2020, a rise from its fourth and fifth place respectively in the preceding two years.
Undoubtedly, all these accomplishments and recognitions would not have been possible without the close connection to and support from mainland China, the world’s second-largest economy. Indeed, Hong Kong and the mainland’s economic development have become even more aligned since the city’s return to China.
Without doubt, Hong Kong’s stock market turnover and market capitalisation would be drastically diminished were it not for the mainland enterprises listed. They have helped to consolidate the city’s status as an international financial centre among global investors, while also tapping into it to raise funds and expand business.
As a Hong Kong financial practitioner, the joy this success brings me is beyond description, as it perfectly illustrates how the financial sector has flourished under the grand concept and successful execution of “one country, two systems”.
As I review the remarkable developments of our city over the past 25 years, I cannot help but recollect memories of 1997, a year which carries profound significance personally.
It was the year I embarked on my career, having received a master’s degree from Yale University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago. I left the ivory tower and started working in New York, alone in a foreign country. While pulling long hours day in, day out, in my quiet moments I held my hometown and family in mind.
My parents moved from rural Chaozhou in the 1960s and toiled to provide for their children. They witnessed Hong Kong’s transformation to an international metropolis. The fact that citizens, given a chance, could unleash their potential and bring vitality to society was a great inspiration to me growing up.
It was also the source of my determination to return home one day, and I was most happy that I did so in 2005 to continue my career in the financial industry.
In the meantime, Hong Kong’s core traditional strengths will be crucial for helping our country go global as China takes on an increasingly significant international role. Hong Kong can capitalise on this growth by contributing its strengths to our motherland’s overall needs.
The next five years represent a critical juncture for Hong Kong as we evolve from stability to prosperity. I am confident that, with our concerted efforts, we can rise to the numerous socio-economic challenges facing our city and genuinely improve life for all.
Dr Stephen Wong is a Legislative Council member and senior vice-president and executive director of the Public Policy Institute, Our Hong Kong Foundation