Redefining Hong Kong

Former executive councillor Ronald Arculli highlights triple challenge facing Hong Kong

Ronald Arculli tells Post forum that city must re-examine its education system, tackle challenges of an ageing population and increase competitiveness

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 8:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 December, 2016, 11:16pm

Re-examining education, tackling the challenges of an ageing population and increasing Hong Kong’s competitiveness are three things a former executive councillor said he would try to fix if he were chief executive.

The comments were made during the Post’s latest Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series, titled “Is Hong Kong losing its appeal as Asia’s financial centre?”

Redefining Hong Kong panellists say social issues can break political deadlock

Conflict on whether to teach children in their mother tongue has led to poor English and Chinese language skills among Hong Kong students, according to King and Wood Mallesons senior partner Ronald Arculli, who has served on both the Executive and Legislative councils..

“All parents prefer non-mother-tongue because we’re a business centre, and therefore they prefer English,” he said. “But the professional teachers prefer mother-tongue and as a result ... university students cannot put together a one-page letter in English or Chinese. [So] we lose out on both.”

Ferocious competition for international school places – resulting in extremely high debentures – was hurting Hong Kong’s ability to retain talent, he said.

“I have grandchildren who are two years old that are sent to coaches to teach them how to do the [school] interview,” he said.

A declining labour pool and an increasing need for health care services due to a greying population were also challenges that he would tackle.

Panellists said Hong Kong needed to find ways to attract and retain talent and be less risk averse to remain appealing as Asia’s financial centre. They said focusing exclusively on China was another problem.

Dr King Au, a member of the Financial Services Development Council, believed the top priority for the city was to retain and attract talent.

“Do we have enough of a talent pool to support our ambition – that's my main concern,” he said.

Arculli said talent from overseas was equally important. Remaining a free market was crucial, he said, especially as talk of nationalism and protectionism was rising around the world.

“In terms of a financial centre, it is ours to lose,” he said. “We cannot be complacent, we must remain competitive ... Keeping an open free market and economy is absolutely critical.”

Albert Ng, Ernst and Young greater China managing partner, said that in order for Hong Kong to remain an “international” financial centre, it needed to think beyond China.

Hong Kong is falling behind in innovation and use of financial technology, according to Clifford Chance partner Francis Edwards. He added there was “far more use” of fintech on the mainland and the US than in Hong Kong.

Panellists called for Hong Kong to find ways to exploit its role as a “super-connector” between China and the world.

United Overseas Bank managing director and greater China chief executive Christine Ip said the government could not get more done because of constant criticism from legislators and the media, making civil servants “very scared”, and negatively affecting the city’s competitiveness.

Some panellists believed regulators and the government were too risk averse, but Ng said a balance had to be struck in order to ensure “proper control and monitoring” of Hong Kong’s financial systems.

But even with all these challenges Hong Kong faces to retain its position as Asia’s financial centre, panellists were confident Hong Kong would not lose its status anytime soon.