Hong Kong society is expected to shift its focus from improving the electoral system to the new Election Committee, the seventh-term Legislative Council and the chief executive elections under the improved electoral system.
These elections are crucial to Hong Kong’s future because they are expected to return a capable team of administrators who have “a comprehensive perspective”. As far as the top administrators of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are concerned, having a comprehensive perspective means planning the city’s future with the view of national development and national rejuvenation.
This is given so much emphasis because Hong Kong has overlooked the need for a comprehensive perspective in the development of its traditional industries such as shipping, as well as new ones like technology and innovation — one of the reasons why it has been overtaken by leading mainland cities in those industries in recent years.
As public-policy scholar Naubahar Sharif wrote in China Daily Hong Kong Edition on May 14, “The window of opportunity to participate in the development of China’s science and technology and innovation system opened 20 to 30 years ago, but it has long since narrowed — dramatically so. By not passing through the window decades earlier, Hong Kong has mostly missed out on the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the mainland. Leading mainland cities such as Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Guangzhou have long surpassed Hong Kong when it comes to nurturing science, technology and innovation.”
With a comprehensive perspective, the HKSAR administrators can keep clear minds while assessing Hong Kong’s advantages and shortcomings, and realize the importance of drawing on the Greater Bay Area for support in advancing its comparatively strong industries while helping its waning sectors transform
Starting in 1992, the Hong Kong Container Port was the busiest container port in the world for 12 years in a row. Since then, however, it has been surpassed by several mainland ports. According to the Top 50 World Container Ports rankings compiled by the Journal of Commerce, the HKCP ranked eighth in 2019, while six of the top 10 were mainland ports. At its prime, the HKCP handled more than 24 million twenty-foot equivalent units a year, but just over 18 million TEUs in 2019. Admittedly, that was caused in part by the rise of mainland ports and the relocation of Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry to the neighboring Guangdong province. Still, there was another reason that many people have overlooked: The administrations of the HKSAR have been reluctant to plan Hong Kong’s development as an integral part of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao region (now known as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area). Instead, the city has slept on past laurels and done little to move itself up the rankings.
With a comprehensive perspective, the HKSAR administrators can keep clear minds while assessing Hong Kong’s advantages and shortcomings, and realize the importance of drawing on the Greater Bay Area for support in advancing its comparatively strong industries while helping its waning sectors transform. Take the port and shipping sector as an example. Since it seems impossible for the manufacturing industry to move back to Hong Kong, the city can no longer regain the edge over Shenzhen and Guangzhou in port throughput. As such, the HKSAR government should strive to expand Hong Kong’s shipping services and provide value-added professional assistance in shipping insurance, maritime finance, legal counsel and arbitration to businesses on the other side of the Greater Bay Area.
When it comes to a comprehensive perspective, Hong Kong’s administrators are often found lacking. For instance, when LegCo deliberated a motion by lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan to fuel socioeconomic development in the northern New Territories by boosting cross-border economic activities, he pointed out that while Shenzhen developed by leaps and bounds, Hong Kong has stalled due to endless “studying”. He added that northern NT development must not follow the traditional “new-town formula”, but rather adopt a model that powers Hong Kong’s economic restructuring through broader cooperation with the mainland, especially Shenzhen. Lau also revealed that he had been approached by the Yantian district government in Shenzhen, with a written plan for establishing a tourism and retail cooperation zone in the Sha Tau Kok/Shatoujiao area. He contrasted the Shenzhen authorities’ move with that of Hong Kong, which has insisted on more cross-department studies to deal with smuggling before committing to opening such a cooperation zone.
Sha Tau Kok was declared a “frontier closed area” by the British Hong Kong administration very much in keeping with London’s Cold War mentality after the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. It was a colonial-era legacy necessitated by border security and smuggling risks as a result of underdevelopment in Shenzhen. Now, the gap between the two cities in economic development is narrowing day by day, while economic integration in the Greater Bay Area is on the agenda. Meanwhile, some decision-makers in Hong Kong are still obsessed with certain ideas of yesteryear. The chief executive and principal officials of the HKSAR government must take the lead in breaking down the “dual barriers” between Hong Kong and the mainland, namely, the physical barrier in border control and the psychological one in the shape of ideological difference, which together have seriously hampered Hong Kong’s development since 1997. They have to do it sooner rather than later if they want to show their comprehensive perspective.
The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.