HK’s development must be driven by innovative strategies

Based on the conviction that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region can become closely aligned with the Chinese mainland’s development under the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), and assume a hitherto “irreplaceable role” as China marches toward its second centenary goal, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled in her Policy Address on Oct 6 an unconventional and ambitious strategy guiding the city’s development over the coming two decades. Instead of tackling only at the margin of the deep-seated problems of land and housing that have unsettled society for decades, she is striving to face them head-on by addressing the root of the troubles. Empowered by the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which targets acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, this marks a shift in strategy. Lam admits that she made use of a golden opportunity to introduce the mega-development plan, created by the peace and stability which the national security legislation has restored, and the removal of the willful undermining of the HKSAR’s governing institutions by fine-tuning the territory’s electoral system, guaranteeing rule by patriots in the public domain.

With the region returning to the right track, Lam unveiled in her annual address, amid soaring property prices, a visionary land and housing expansion program, by proposing to develop a Northern Metropolis in the New Territories — a conglomerate of a few new towns and land zones in the northern New Territories area adjoining Shenzhen’s “special economic zone”. She promised policy support for this projected growth that exceeds the restrictions imposed by the administrative boundaries, and covers an extended time frame of 10 to 20 years. The economic and territorial metamorphosis that will occur to the entire northern New Territories will transform the region bordering Shenzhen into a high-tech belt which will, complemented by Shenzhen’s “special economic zone” in Qianhai, reinforce the HKSAR’s status as a global trade and financial hub supported by the sophisticated high-tech operations in Qianhai. In addition to the financial reforms that serve to boost the real economy, which is set increasingly for mutually beneficial integration across the Shenzhen River, the plan for the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone will envisage the birth of a test hub of global legal systems and cross-border rules, as well as the enhanced implementation of the “one country, two systems” administrative arrangement with an associated arena for broader economic development and relief of the bottlenecked housing supply. The latter will help shorten the present waiting time of 5.8 years for a public housing flat. 

The Policy Address this year has provided a highly challenging way forward for the HKSAR to carve its niche and retain its competitive edge in the macroeconomic development of the Greater Bay Area with an overall population of over 80 million which will generate enormous possibilities for an extensive range of undertakings

This right-track cross-border macro project will, according to Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, bring in a “dumbbell”-shaped development of the HKSAR driven by the powerhouses of the respective financial services and high-tech endeavors where the Northern Metropolis will echo the trade, business, finances and industries along Victoria Harbor. The wisely orchestrated formation of a metropolitan region synthesizing the northern New Territories and the highly productive territory of the neighboring Shenzhen cooperation zone can be expected to accrue immense economic advantages to Hong Kong residents by enabling them to fully explore the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area’s huge potential for growth and development. 

Another significant shift in the mode of the city’s development in favor of a railway-led strategy is the direction that the government is trending toward in the new epoch-making advancement initiatives. Mass transit rail transport infrastructure featured as the dominant focus of public works in the latest policy blueprint that will precede and bolster the actual relocation of population and industries in the initial and further opening-up of a designated area. This is contrary to the development model hitherto adhered to in the creation of some new towns in the New Territories, where a lagging provision of efficient transport services created big problems in the daily commuting of residents to workplaces and schools.  

Chan has called for a highly innovative approach to bring to fruition all the high-tech projects planned. This is crucial if the developments are to succeed. Apart from the question of how to decide on the right approach, the availability of high-tech professionals and a capable managerial team in the HKSAR government is no less vital in ensuring that Lam’s development plan accomplishes its aims. Attractive incentives in tax and family relocation should be considered to capture the attention and support of experts around the world to come to Hong Kong and other cities in the Greater Bay Area to explore their careers and businesses. These professionals and specialists will also help drum up private investments in research and development, in addition to the HK$130 billion ($16.7 billion) already injected into the innovation sector by the HKSAR government. 

On the part of the senior leadership in the government, Lam has already spelled out proposals for restructuring the civil service to meet the demands of effective and efficient public services in the years ahead. Though the responsibilities for following through fall to the new-term government, the structural modifications as mooted by Lam mark a good start in the correct orientation. She said that there should be corresponding revisions in the method and emphasis in the recruitment and appointment of senior officials in the government, which ought to add weight to the personal caliber, vision and capability of appointees to work under the strains of political accountability. 

To conclude, the Policy Address this year has provided a highly challenging way forward for the HKSAR to carve its niche and retain its competitive edge in the macroeconomic development of the Greater Bay Area with an overall population of over 80 million which will generate enormous possibilities for an extensive range of undertakings. While it is time to commence engagement in the preparations for the vast projects that are involved, it is also necessary for the massive development programs to be convincingly marketed to the public and investing community, to garner their trust and favorable responses. Let’s all bear in mind that Hong Kong’s continued thriving existence ties in with proactive and constructive participation in the Greater Bay Area’s development and co-prosperity among sister cities.

The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.