The Policy Address has introduced a host of measures to benefit Hong Kong, bringing hope to the local economy and people’s livelihood. However, as these measures are large in number and extensive in scope, implementing them will be a test for the wisdom of the HKSAR Government.
The Chief Executive delivered her Policy Address titled “Striving Ahead with Renewed Perseverance” last month. It was her fourth one since taking office. Prior to the launch of the Policy Address, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s economic downturn, the Chief Executive went to Beijing to strive for measures that will benefit Hong Kong and inject new impetus into its economic development.
Promote economic diversification
Both positive and proactive, the Policy Address rolled out about 200 new measures that are focused on two themes, i.e. accurate implementation of the principles of “One Country, Two Systems” and integration into the overall development of the country. After last year’s social incidents and violent acts, the application of the Hong Kong National Security Law has been effective in restoring stability in Hong Kong, providing a precondition for its economic development. However, the global economy is no longer in good shape amid the overhang of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an export-oriented economy, Hong Kong has been hit hard. Although Hong Kong’s overall economy improved slightly in the third quarter (real GDP declined 3.5% year-on-year, less than in the previous quarter, and grew a seasonally adjusted 2.8% on a quarterly basis), it is forecasted to contract 6.1% in 2020 as a whole. In addition, Hong Kong’s unemployment rate surged to a 16-year high of 6.4%. The unemployment rate is likely to rise further, especially there may be a wave of business closures as the government’s employment support measures have expired at the end of November. As the first major economy to recover from the pandemic and the only economy globally that is likely to show growth this year, China is where Hong Kong should be heading to in pursuit of economic recovery.
Backed by the motherland, Hong Kong has received state support. The Policy Address has introduced a host of measures that are beneficial to Hong Kong and bring hope to its economy and people’s livelihood, including supporting financial interconnectivity between the two places, improving the infrastructure of land boundary control points between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, investing in the Zhuhai Airport to enhance synergy, allowing eligible Hong Kong private cars to travel to the Mainland, launching the “GoGBA” platform to assist SMEs in expanding domestic sales and accessing e-commerce platforms, and rolling out the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme and the Funding Scheme for Youth Entrepreneurship in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (Greater Bay Area). All these can help Hong Kong’s businesses and young people realize their ambitions in the Greater Bay Area, consolidate and enhance Hong Kong’s strengths in the Greater Bay Area, and promote economic diversification. With regard to harnessing Hong Kong’s strengths and meeting the country’s needs, under “One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong’s common law regime and professional talent pool will help it participate in China’s dual circulation economic strategy and integrate into the country’s overall development landscape.
As the measures beneficial to Hong Kong are large in number and extensive in scope, implementing them will be a test for the wisdom of the HKSAR Government. As the projects are at different stages of maturity and have varying levels of complexity, those that are relatively simple, such as the “GoGBA” support platform, can be launched earlier. However, those that are relatively massive, such as releasing over 20 hectares of land at the new Huanggang Port for other uses and allowing the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation to lease and manage certain areas of the Innovation and Technology Zone in Shenzhen for businesses to move in earlier, are in different processes of discussion. To properly understand the needs of businesses, the government must communicate with the business community, chambers of commerce and stakeholders in a timely manner, and share the fruits of the support measures and economic diversification with all sectors of society.
Pandemic containment is top priority
The fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong has spread across all levels and areas. Some of the cases are unknown in origin, reflecting a deeper penetration of the invisible transmission chain in the community. The pandemic has worsened dramatically recently, with over 100 confirmed cases recorded on 29 November. China became the world’s first major economy to recover precisely because of its successful containment of the pandemic. Hong Kong has to bring the pandemic under control before it can restart the “travel bubble” and “business bubble”, and “zero infection” is a prerequisite for Hong Kong to resume interactions with Mainland personnel. Only by effectively containing the pandemic can Hong Kong truly implement the measures to improve the economy and people’s livelihood so that the public can return to normal life and the economy can recover and regain its vitality.
The government’s anti-epidemic policy has always been “stemming inbound and intra-city COVID-19 transmissions”, but actually there are many loopholes, including weak law enforcement, low deterrence, no subsequent compulsory monitoring measures for people who are exempted from quarantine, delayed adjustment of anti-epidemic measures, etc. Moreover, as Hong Kong residents are experiencing fatigue after nearly a year of combating the pandemic, easing the restrictions on gatherings will exacerbate the spread of the virus.
Tighter restrictions and stricter enforcement
In view of the severity of the fourth wave, the government reimposed strict measures on 30 November to combat the pandemic. In the two weeks from 2 December, up to two people are allowed for public gatherings, down from four; restaurants are only allowed to serve fewer people per table; and many entertainment venues have to remain closed. Adopting multiple measures together to control the pandemic, the government will/has also strengthened testing and quarantine capacity and increased the number of community testing centres; increased the number of Hospital Authority-designated clinics for distributing specimen collection packs; increased the number of specimen packs distributed by Hongkong Post and will discuss with MTR to distribute sample packs at major MTR stations; and taken over two hotels with a total of 800 rooms for use as quarantine centres.
However, the success of the anti-epidemic measures depends in part on the ability to cut off the source of transmission and in part on the cooperation of residents. To cut off the source of transmission, people who are exempted from quarantine should undergo another virus test at the airport and subsequently be required to stay within their places of work and residence. To ensure residents do their part in combating the pandemic, the restrictions must be strictly enforced and the relevant fines must be substantially increased to strengthen deterrence.
With Christmas approaching, Hong Kong faces numerous challenges in its efforts to prevent and combat the pandemic. As the Chief Executive has repeatedly stated that it is difficult for Hong Kong to implement universal virus testing, it is only by quickly and fully plugging the aforesaid loopholes and combating the pandemic together with one mind and one heart that the pandemic can be contained so that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the economy and people’s livelihood.
This is a free translation. For the exact meaning of the article, please refer to the Chinese version.
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