Manifesto heralds stability, revival

Chief executive election candidate John Lee Ka-chiu unveiled his policy platform on Friday. It covers four major policy areas: 1) reinforcing the government’s governance capability; 2) raising the pace, efficiency and quantity of housing development as well as the land lots it requires; 3) improving Hong Kong’s competitiveness, and 4) taking better care of local society as a whole and youths in particular. The election manifesto shows his pragmatic style of problem-solving is all about getting desirable results.

When it comes to strengthening governance capability, Lee has put forward several ideas, such as stepping up policy research and enhancing the government’s policy execution; establishing social service and community care teams for all 18 districts; and putting in place an “emergency mobilization mechanism” that will call civil servants up to handle emergency situations. These proposed measures are apparently motivated by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s experiences in handling the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and lessons it taught us on preparing for future crises of any kind.

Hong Kong, because of many complex factors, has accumulated a plethora of tangled structural problems in its economy and people’s livelihoods. Among them, the one that has weighed on Hong Kong society the longest and the most is the supply of land for residential development and access to affordable housing. For decades upon decades, the supply of reasonably affordable residential housing has fallen behind demand, resulting in home prices rising steadily more often than not. This has left a growing number of local residents losing hope of ever becoming homeowners without a miracle, while the per capita area of living space in the city shrank over the years.

Just four days before Lee published his policy platform, the Hong Kong press reported that the estimated wait for a public-housing assignment had grown to six years, the longest since 1999. A family of four is still on the waiting list more than five years after submitting an application for public rental housing, with the younger son already attending college having to share a bunk bed with his older sister. A family of three, waiting for their turn to move into a public housing unit for years, currently lives in a subdivided “room” with only one bunk bed for all of them. It is not surprising at all that people living in subdivided flats have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to one recent public opinion poll on those living in subdivided units, 77 percent of the respondents and their family members got infected at the same time because of the tiny living space they share, and more than 40 percent of them were infected when their family members brought in the SARS-CoV-2 virus from outside. The infection rate of whole households stood at nearly 55 percent among the respondents, and over 82 percent of them reported more than half of their households tested positive.

Lee has proposed a number of possible solutions to the shortage of affordable housing as well as land for its development in his campaign policy raft aimed at increasing the pace, efficiency and quantity of land supply and residential housing development if he wins the 2022 CE election. His proposals will be under the auspices of two planning task forces, on land and residential housing supply respectively. Extensive study will be made of the Lantau Tomorrow Vision and Northern Metropolis development plans, with an eye on multiple ways to find large swaths of land for housing construction. Those steps, however, will be preceded by infrastructure development, especially rail transportation facilities linking all the housing estates with the rest of the city. He will also simplify procedures for land auctions and residential housing authorizations as well as pursuing multiple approaches toward discovering suitable land lots for housing development. To shorten the wait for public housing, he intends to introduce a plan that will allow eligible households to move into a public rental housing unit one year earlier than schedule under an expedient homeownership program. In terms of residential construction, he has suggested the adoption of new technologies to accelerate the construction process.

On improving Hong Kong’s competitiveness, Lee states in his policy platform that if he is elected the next CE, he will focus on reinforcing and elevating Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center with particular attention to expanding its offshore renminbi businesses; developing Hong Kong into an international center of innovation and technology to power the city’s economic transformation; and stepping up efforts to make Hong Kong a cultural metropolis in the world as well as in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

True to his pragmatic billing, Lee has listed in his campaign policy platform a series of measures to develop a caring society that attaches great importance to whole-person development of young people; enhancing healthcare; strengthening the Hospital Authority’s (HA’s) emergency response mechanism and supporting the HA’s efforts to expand medical services and hire more professionals; boosting traditional Chinese medicine development as a positive addition to Hong Kong’s healthcare system; and implementing the experimental plan designed to resolve intergenerational poverty. He promised efforts to create better career opportunities for Hong Kong youths, and help them seize those opportunities to the best of their abilities, so that they can contribute to the development of their hometown, with the motherland in their heart and an eye on international affairs. Also in this section of his campaign policy platform, Lee vows to take concrete measures to improve service quality at Hong Kong’s elderly homes, increase old-age care facilities, and ensure quality service for senior citizens to enjoy their twilight years in good hands.

All journeys long or short begin with the first step forward. Hong Kong is in pressing need of economic rejuvenation after the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic infected millions of residents, with nearly 10,000 of them succumbing to either viral infections or preexisting conditions. According to a mathematical model developed by experts at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong and published on April 28, the government’s plan to ease social-distancing restrictions in stages from now on may lead to the sixth wave of viral infections.

It should be noted that expert predictions based on mathematical models constructed by local universities have proved rather reliable in the past two years or so.

If Lee eventually wins the election, he should begin a structural overhaul of the HKSAR government and build a capable team of principal officials. Meanwhile, he will need to help the incumbent administration in fending off a sixth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Hong Kong is a highly open economy. Its economic recovery in the near future and intermediate-to-long-term development requires a quick resumption of personnel exchanges with the Chinese mainland and the international community, especially between Hong Kong and the mainland. To that end, Hong Kong must figure out the best way to align with the mainland’s “dynamic zero COVID” strategy.

Hong Kong cannot wait any longer for the reopening of quarantine-free travel. The city cannot accomplish the mission of steady rejuvenation without resuming personnel exchanges with the international community as well as the mainland.

The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.