Lam’s visit reveals her key objectives Zhou Bajun
Notes the new chief executive’s first overseas stop — Singapore — and contrasts the city-state’s development model to HK’s ‘positive non-interventionism’
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuetngor, after announcing on Tuesday the appointment of under secretaries for 10 policy bureaus and political assistants for several, on Wednesday began her first official visit as CE to Singapore and Thailand.
She answered questions raised by reporters from the two countries before departure. On the one hand, she noted, Hong Kong can learn from Singapore, especially its government’s proactive and hands-on style of governing. Lam believes her government, in addition to providing services and market regulation, should like its Singaporean counterpart be an enabler; it has to convince more foreign businesses to invest in Hong Kong’s development projects. She said Hong Kong and Singapore face similar challenges, such as maintaining a competitive edge amid economic globalization, dealing with an aging population and giving young people hope for a better future. She is confident the two sides can cooperate in resolving those issues in an inter-complementary manner.
On the other hand, she explained, she chose Singapore and Thailand for her first visit as Hong Kong’s CE because the two countries are both Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members with which Hong Kong is keen to increase exchanges and cooperation. She added that an agreement between Hong Kong and ASEAN on forming a free trade zone might be signed as early as late this year.
The ideas she shared with reporters on Wednesday are in fact the main theme of her first foreign trip as the new CE.
For one thing, openly expressing the desire to learn from the Singaporean government’s administrative preference and style signals Lam’s intent to say goodbye to the 1970s mantra of “positive non-interventionism” adopted by the British Hong Kong government. This is a turning point in Hong Kong’s public policy orientation if you will.
“Positive non-interventionism” emphasizes that the government should not and cannot put its nose in individual industries’ or sectors’ devel- The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings. opment and can only provide them with “public goods” — that is rules, regulations and infrastructure.
That previous terms of the SAR government more or less stuck to “noninterventionism” may be a main reason why Hong Kong’s high-tech industry has yet to make an impact on the national or regional, and much less the world, stage.
In clear contrast Singapore has made impressive strides in developing its own high-tech industry consistently. Lee Kuan Yew, the late founding father of the tiny city state across the Johor Strait from Malaysia, wrote in his autobiography that, when he was prime minister in the 1970s, he tirelessly tried for years to convince Western business conglomerates to invest in Singapore and his efforts finally paid off in the shape of the Jurong Industrial Park (JIP).
A joint study by Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization last year put Singapore in sixth place on the inno- vativeness chart, behind powerhouses such as the United States and United Kingdom. Given its lack of natural resources and meager size, however, Singapore as a very young city state has a lot to be proud of standing among those “giants”.
“It is not too late to mend the fold even after some sheep have been lost.” This old Chinese saying no doubt still applies in Hong Kong. There are quite a few islands in Hong Kong waters, including Lantau, suitable for a new high-tech industrial park like Singapore’s JIP if the SAR government decides to start anew as Lee did as head of government during Singapore’s humble beginnings.
It should be noted, however, that once Hong Kong has made the decision to let the government change course, so to speak, and speed up the pace of high-tech industry development, there will be no turning back afterwards. A necessary set of policies, laws and administrative measures must be in place to facilitate cooperation with businesses and banks in achieving the goal. More efforts are also needed to enhance Hong Kong’s role in the development of the Guangdong-Hong KongMacao Greater Bay Area city cluster.
Meanwhile, it is a matter of course that Hong Kong needs to reach an agreement soon with ASEAN nations on establishing a free trade zone like the one between the mainland and 10-member ASEAN, also known as “10+1”. It will serve both parties well when trade opportunities arise from investment projects born of the Belt and Road Initiative.
According to a prospective action plan announced by the central government in March 2015, there will be an economic corridor between China’s coastal regions and the Indochina Peninsula, offering ASEAN nations an important role to play in the Belt and Road Initiative. Many infrastructure development projects will be launched to turn the “economic corridor” into reality, including roads, airports, sea ports and all the utilities needed for new industrial parks and transport facilities to function. Hong Kong’s professionals and their expertise will be in hot demand by then. There is no better time for Hong Kong to take the plunge than now.
Openly expressing the desire to learn from the Singaporean government’s administrative preference and style signals Lam’s intent to say goodbye to the 1970s mantra of “positive non-interventionism” adopted by the British Hong Kong government.