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Hong Kong economy

Why are Hongkongers obsessed with Singapore, even as they give their own government the cold shoulder?

The Lion City does well in areas Hong Kong struggles in, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2018, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 11:15am

Hongkongers are feeling more love for Singapore, even as they shun their own and the United States’ governments.

In a University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme poll asking 502 Hongkongers how they feel about different governments, the Lion City came out on top in a list of 14 places.

In contrast, Hong Kong was ranked 11th and Canada slipped to 2nd, from 1st in August last year. The US was at the bottom of the list of places that included regions in Greater China and other countries.

Professor Xun Wu, the director of the institute for public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, did not comment directly on the findings but said Singapore often stood out in international rankings.

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“In general, I think that people may view Singapore’s experience more positively as the country has performed very well in various international rankings, such as competitiveness, innovation, quality of education and liveable cities, while Hong Kong continues to struggle in areas where Singapore has excelled in … such as housing affordability,” Wu said.

Singapore and Hong Kong have always engaged in a rivalry for talent and to be Asia’s financial centre.

Since Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took office last July, there has seemed to be a concerted effort to learn from the experiences of the country of 5.6 million people.

Lam chose Singapore for her first official overseas trip, and while there visited its Civil Service College, which trains public servants. She pledged to set up a similar agency in Hong Kong, saying civil servants here could learn about “thinking outside the box” and to embrace new technology.

Her promise to give more Hongkongers the chance to own flats is also in line with the Singapore model, where nine in 10 households own the home they live in.

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In her policy address last year, Lam said: “The ability to own a home may be a good foundation for a stable society. This is also why so many people envy Singapore’s public housing system, as flats are mainly for sale, and therefore everyone has an asset.”

The Hong Kong leader mentioned Singapore 21 times in her official speeches, remarks and in Legislative Council meetings in the past year, according to a Post review.

HKU’s random telephone poll, carried out this earlier this month, asked residents if they felt positive or negative towards a certain government and their people. Some 62.5 per cent said they felt positive about Singapore’s government, while 7.4 per cent said they felt negative – a 55 percentage point net score.

In contrast, Hong Kong’s government got a net score of only 4 percentage points, and Canada’s had 53 percentage points, though this was higher than the 48 percentage points it scored last year. The country bordering the US has always been a top destination for Hongkongers seeking to migrate.

Director and CEO of think tank Hong Kong Policy Research Institute Andrew Fung Ho-keung said that the findings reflected Singapore’s strengths that Hong Kong people admired.

“Singapore has always given people the impression of a very progressive, modern and efficient city,” “They have a democratic election, there is no corruption, they place importance on a diverse city, and they have affordable housing – these are all qualities and values that Hong Kong people like,” Fung said.

“On the other hand, there are Hongkongers who increasingly feel that there are problems, like housing, that have not been solved and they don’t see a future here, which is why they are moving abroad to places like Canada,” he said.

But Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business, was unconvinced.

“From the viewpoint of doing business, I believe Hong Kong is a much better place than many other overseas countries, be it Singapore, or the US,” said Chau.

“Overseas studies have rated Hong Kong as the world’s freest economy. It is easy and efficient to set up business here, the tax rate is low. Government intervention is minimal.”

“The general public might easily get the impression that the Hong Kong government is not efficient because of news of project delays. But very often, consultation takes a long time. I don’t think people would like to see our government become efficient by dropping public consultation.”

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In the poll last August, Hongkongers ranked their city’s government higher. The net score shortly after Lam took office was 9 percentage points, an improvement from the time of former leader Leung Chun-ying. The score was -9 percentage points in May last year, and -17 percentage points in November 2016.

The latest survey also showed Hongkongers regarded people in Taiwan, Japan and Singapore positively but did not have the same feelings about mainlanders.

Half of the poll respondents were positive about their fellow residents, while 14 per cent were negative, resulting in a net value of 36 percentage points.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng and Alvin Lum