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China economy

Hong Kong businesses and students struggling to access mainland market, poll finds

Respondents say city government’s outpost offices are not performing well in their function to help source for opportunities and clear red tape

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 11:31pm

More than half of Hongkongers working in major mainland cities are frustrated with insufficient support from Hong Kong government offices stationed there, a cross-border survey has found.

The report, claimed by pollsters to be the biggest of its kind, involved interviews with 1,017 university students as well as 137 professionals and entrepreneurs across Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

It was carried out by Hong Kong-based think tank One Country Two Systems Youth Forum from May to October this year.

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“These offices are more like semi-consulates, which we only turn to when there are emergencies ... We cannot count on them for better access or treatment in the mainland market,” said Wesley Chiu Bun, 41, co-founder of an international school in Changshu, a city about two hours’ drive from Shanghai.

According to the survey findings, 60 per cent of entrepreneurs polled said the offices did not offer enough support for them to start businesses in mainland China. In addition, more than one third of Hong Kong students claimed the offices were unhelpful in helping them find jobs.

Nearly 80 per cent of entrepreneurs said they expected more help from the offices to look for business opportunities and to defend their rights and interests.

Some 90 per cent of students wanted the offices to connect them with more internships and employment opportunities.

Chiu said common obstacles faced by Hong Kong businessmen included restricted market access, difficulties in hiring and handling legal issues, as well as government red tape.

To win the local government’s support for their international school, Chiu said he had to play down his identity as a Hongkonger and rely heavily on his two mainland partners in getting approvals.

Currently, the Hong Kong government has five offices in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan and Beijing, each having at least two liaison units.

These offices are responsible for enhancing government-to-government cooperation, promoting Hong Kong’s trade and commerce, and supporting Hong Kong people and enterprises on the mainland.

Hong Kong residents in distress on the mainland can also seek help from the offices, according to the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau.

For the year 2017-18, the offices – including one in Taiwan – were granted a budget of about HK$355 million with an annual increase of 26.9 per cent.

In her maiden policy address on October 11, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised that the offices would further support Hongkongers and businesses on the mainland.

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“Over the past two decades, the offices were not active enough to identify difficulties faced by Hongkongers living on the mainland and to report these problems to the mainland government,” Henry Ho Kin-chung, the think tank’s convenor, said.

The last government survey on Hongkongers living in mainland China was conducted more than a decade ago. By the end of 2004, it found that an estimated 486,100 locals were regular residents across the border.

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said the offices on the mainland had been meeting Hong Kong businessmen regularly to better understand their concerns and encouraging mainland enterprises to provide internship opportunities for Hong Kong students.

It added that the offices had stepped up efforts in collecting information relating to latest mainland developments and policies, to help those in need.