Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / China / HK Macao

Achievements mark Lee's first year as HK chief executive

By Regina Ip | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-30 09:56
Share - WeChat

On July 1, 2022, John Lee Ka-chiu became the sixth chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. After more than three years of setbacks caused by political upheaval and the isolation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee had a long to-do list and raced against time to catch up with the city's regional rivals.

Lee had immediate and structural problems on his hands. His immediate tasks included phasing out pandemic-related travel restrictions, reopening Hong Kong to the world and reviving the ailing economy. Lee accomplished these tasks fairly speedily, with distinction.

Even before Hong Kong reopened to the world upon the lifting of the "amber" health code on Dec 14, it had already resumed its function as a global financial hub. In October, the city hosted a financial summit that drew strong support from global financial leaders. Other mega events — Art Basel, Rugby Seven, Museum Week — followed in quick succession, testifying to Hong Kong's renewed status as an international arts, cultural, sports and business center.

Hong Kong's structural problems — the chronic land and housing shortage, economic inequality and narrow economic structure — are much harder nuts to crack. Lee made them his top priorities, even as Hong Kong was still recovering from its economic doldrums.

To tackle inequality and the shortage of subsidized public housing, Lee's team rolled out a "light public housing" program, which would provide much better quality housing for 10,000 inhabitants of abject, subdivided cubicles within five years, and shorten the public housing waiting list.

To restructure the economy, Hong Kong requires a determined effort by government to abandon its long-cherished "small government, big market" credo, and jump-start technological development by investing heavily in research and development, recruiting tech talent and producing land for advanced manufacturing.

Lee lost no time in putting new policies in place to provide the necessary resources for technological development. His administration pushed ahead with development of the Northern Metropolis, the northern part of the New Territories encompassing the Yuen Long and Northern districts. The massive project is slated to produce a total land area of 300 square kilometers, create 650,000 jobs and accommodate 2.5 million people.

To make this happen, Lee's administration secured support from the Legislative Council to amend six pieces of infrastructure-related legislation to speed up the development process. The secretary for development confirmed in the Legislative Council recently that the administration would, through compulsory resumption, acquire 500 hectares of private land in the New Territories in the next five years — four times the amount resumed five years ago — to make land available for housing and technological development.

This does not include more land to be produced, through land resumption or public-private partnership, to build the San Tin Technopole, a vastly expanded tech park to support development in artificial intelligence, data analysis, health and life sciences and new energy.

Another hurdle the government must overcome is the shortage of professional talent and labor. The government reckoned that in 2022 there was an outflow of at least 140,000 Hong Kong residents. The labor shortage and the exodus of professionals have severely handicapped Hong Kong's economic recovery.

It is to the government's credit that within the space of one year, Lee's administration has launched a "global talent pass" program, which has attracted at least 17,000 top talent coming in with 13,000 family members. In addition, the government launched programs to remedy the acute labor shortage in the construction and transportation sectors, and it suspended the exclusion of 26 occupations from the existing Supplementary Labour program. It is expected that in the next couple of years, as many as 100,000 workers with different levels of skill will join Hong Kong's workforce.

The Northern Metropolis is pivotal not only for the purpose of turbocharging tech development, but also for promoting greater connectivity with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and providing a much broader range of opportunities for young people. As President Xi Jinping has reiterated, young people are Hong Kong's future, and Hong Kong cannot rise again unless its young people regain hope and confidence.

With youth development among Lee's top concerns, his administration has pressed ahead with the provision of youth hostels to improve housing conditions for young people. It also has launched the Strive and Rise program to provide a comprehensive mentorship program for less-privileged young people.

Lee's tasks are many and varied, ranging from safeguarding national security and maintaining societal harmony and stability, to instilling a greater sense of national identity, reforming Hong Kong's governance structure, and improving livelihoods and spurring economic recovery. Lee has worked tirelessly in the past year and ticked all the right boxes. He is on course to meeting President Xi's expectations and fulfilling pledges in his first policy address.

Yet there is no lack of dark clouds of uncertainty on the horizon. With China and the United States locked in long-term strategic competition, geopolitics will dominate the global landscape, so Hong Kong needs to beware of geopolitical "black swans" — unforeseen events with extreme consequences.

The most challenging task remains Hong Kong's constitutional obligation to enact local legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law to safeguard national security. Lee has indicated this task will be completed by end of 2024 at the latest.

Hong Kong has a long-outstanding constitutional duty to complete this task, but it must be executed with skill to strike a balance between safeguarding national security and maintaining the rights and freedoms pivotal to Hong Kong's continued success as a global business and financial hub. Lee's performance so far shows him to be a man of caution who is willing to listen. There is a good chance that he will be able to accomplish this historic mission with the same level of determination and sensitivity that he has displayed thus far.

The author is convener of the Executive Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and a legislator. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349