HK bounces back after COVID-19 restrictions

Hong Kong may be down, but it’s not out. Its people are the most resilient found anywhere and are well-known to rebound rapidly from disaster after disaster.

Looking forward to a new lease on life, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has announced she will not seek a second term of office, and who would blame her.

As a mother of two adult boys, she’s had little time for her family during her five years of office. And from day one, she has had to deal with unlawful protests, riots, legislative upheavals, a daunting pandemic of COVID-19 and its variants, and perhaps the most unnerving of all, sabotage by foreign governments using the city to undermine China. In fact, her entire tenure as the chief executive has been mired in controversy.

But she has endured with the help of the central government and can now bow out with her head held high. She and we have survived … but just.

Despite all the turbulence during the past five years, Hong Kong has retained its reputation as a place to do business by being ranked third globally, after New York and London, by the China Development Institute in Shenzhen and London think tank Z/Yen Partners in their latest semi-annual Global Financial Centres Index. The ranking also made Hong Kong the top financial center in Asia. Other previously won accolades will follow as we claw back from a depressive state to our old form.

Last year was tough on businesses because of stringent quarantine and social-distancing restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Business travel came to a standstill when major airlines were barred from landing and, worse still, the boundary with the Chinese mainland was closed.

On the downside, Hong Kong was “effectively off the map” as a global aviation hub after the city imposed onerous restrictions, including lengthy quarantine and flight curbs, according to International Air Transport Association Director-General Willie Walsh on April 6.

He claimed that Hong Kong would never recover its former self as a world leading tourism and business hub. So it is up to Hong Kong people to prove him wrong. Hong Kong is still the hub of Asia and offers the mystique of the Orient.

The success of Hong Kong has been due to a number of factors, foremost being its easy access to the vast Chinese mainland market while maintaining a robust common law legal system.

Many things went wrong during the pandemic clampdown. Socializing was virtually nonexistent; restaurants were basically closed at 6 pm, and schools were closed. It was the closure of the schools that hit the business community the most. Expatriates from around the world were drawn to Hong Kong because of the education system afforded to their children. But with no face-to-face schooling and a degeneration of Hong Kong’s famous lifestyle, many fled and returned to their original homelands. However, as in the 1997 exodus, it is expected that many who have fled overseas will return to take part in Hong Kong’s continued prosperity.

Emigration from Hong Kong has been steady since 2019 when foreign-led riots ripped through the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. While the authorities were rounding up the suspected separatists, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia openly welcomed the activists with visa relaxation and other incentives. They were protecting their own. Although the Immigration Department does not seek reasons why people emigrate, it was estimated some 90,000 people left Hong Kong last year. However, some university studies indicate that based on past experiences, about 30 percent of those who emigrate return to Hong Kong after a few years. The returnees during the coming years may be less, as many are fugitives from justice, fleeing prosecution for riotous and seditious behavior to countries that sponsored their criminal acts.

But with the riots and COVID-19 almost behind us, the exodus has peaked, and Hong Kong can look forward to returning to its former glory. Even the famed Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, an international event that draws thousands of tourists, will resume in November after a hiatus of two years.

Hong Kong’s gross domestic product, which declined by 6.1 percent to $346.59 billion in 2020 after the bloody 2019 riots, is showing signs of recovery and is expected to trend up to about $365 billion this year. The spat between China and the European Union will have virtually no effect on Hong Kong, so much so that despite the political bickering, the trade volume between China and the European Union turned the tide and reached a record high of more than $800 billion in 2021, up 27.5 percent year-on-year.

Laura Cha Shih May-lung, chairman of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd and a member of the Executive Council, shared her optimism for the future of Hong Kong: The city’s capital markets remain deep, liquid and vibrant, which means Hong Kong remains a global capital-raising venue of choice.

The core tenets of Hong Kong’s position as an international financial center remain intact; namely, the free flow of capital, robust infrastructure, deep pool of talent, globalized ecosystem, transparent markets and internationally aligned regulatory regimes, she told a local magazine recently.

The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong government, a PR and media consultant, and a veteran journalist.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.