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A Mammoth Maiden Address in Hong Kong SAR

by Mary Devereux

In what may have been the longest ever Policy Address (lasting 2 hours and 45 minutes), Chief Executive John Lee laid out his vision for rejuvenating Hong Kong, after being closed off from the world for nearly three years. To give you an idea of just how important this speech is for Hong Kong SAR, you can liken it to The State of The Union in the US, or a Budget Address in the UK.

A lot was expected from Lee’s maiden address and he certainly delivered on quantity. He laid out multiple measures to address the brain drain, revive the economy, tackle the housing crisis, raise the quality of daily living, and bring better governance into government.

It also became clear as the speech rolled out, that Hong Kong’s future economic development is being finely tuned to support national policies in Mainland China.

Let’s take a look at a few of the key initiatives that made up this monster address.

Luring overseas talent

Hong Kong has had strict quarantine laws in place until only a few weeks ago. It continues to curb public gatherings and enforce the wearing of masks outdoors. As a result, we have been haemorrhaging expat workers over the past year or so.

However, Lee is keen to tackle this. He announced several fast track visas, including a two year ‘Top Talent Pass Scheme’ for those whose annual salary is at least HK$2.5 million (£280K). Rules have also been relaxed for 13 key professions, so employers no longer need to prove they cannot hire staff locally.

Welcome to our OASES

On the economic front, the new Hong Kong Investment Corporation Limited will oversee a HK$30 billion (£3.4 billion) co-investment fund, to attract and support firms to Hong Kong. Another new body, the ‘Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises’ (OASES) will entice enterprises focused on life and health technology, AI and data science, fintech, advanced manufacturing and new energy technology, in keeping with Hong Kong’s vision to be a smart city.

Lee also wants the SAR to be a green city. With a 2050 carbon neutral goal, several initiatives were introduced, including a 6% energy efficiency improvement for government buildings by 2024-25.

Trains, no planes and automobiles

When it comes to infrastructure, the government has grand plans. Hong Kong will launch three new railway lines and three highway projects. It will also speed up development of the Northern Metropolis, a new city in the north of the SAR.

Hong Kong has been suffering from a severe housing shortage for several years, and Lee has produced a novel solution: the government will launch Light Public Housing, with about 30,000 units to be built in five years. Free-standing modules will be manufactured in a prefabrication factory and transported to site for installation in buildings.

Good for your health

Many are welcoming the establishment of a long-overdue Primary Healthcare Authority to coordinate primary healthcare service provision across the public and private sectors.

However, when Lee laid out his Covid strategy, he would not roll back measures. Hong Kong currently has a ‘0+3’ policy, whereby arrivals no longer need to undergo hotel quarantine but must self-monitor at home for three days. There was no mention of introducing “0+0” any time soon.

Mustn’t grumble though – it’s better than the ‘21+0’ of earlier this year.

Too many measures, too little space

I’m not able to cover all 110 measures in this blog, but if you are interested in learning more, do email us at publicaffairs@secnewgate.hk

And what is the reaction from the general public? Muted optimism, I imagine. Many, like me, may wonder how will we pay for all of this?