Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Try harder, Xi tells Hong Kong govt

It is becoming clearer that something has shifted in Beijing’s approach to governing Hong Kong. We pointed out the beginnings of this shift last week, after CE Carrie Lam’s visit to Shanghai and Beijing, where she met President Xi Jinping and her direct report, Vice Premier Han Zheng. She came back more confident, less inclined to give middle-ground statements on the protests. We speculated that it was because the central government had reached a new consensus on Hong Kong, and a change of direction was needed: restrained passive-aggressive interventionism was out; active, overt policy guidance was in.

However, until late yesterday, it hadn’t seemed like the new approach was being timed on a stopwatch. The central government was upping the pressure to introduce national-security legislation, but no deadline had been hinted at.

Then President Xi Jinping interrupted a busy schedule on his overseas trip to comment on the situation in Hong Kong. He reiterated that he wants to see the Hong Kong government and police do whatever is necessary to put an end to the protests. It was no longer just the Hong Kong government’s most important task; it was now its most “urgent,” too.

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Mainland students flee to Shenzhen, some to campuses

As mainland students flee Hong Kong’s embattled university campuses for the safety of neighboring Shenzhen, a spotlight is being shone on the relationship between the Hong Kong universities and their affiliates across the border.

Fearing that they could become targets of the anti-government protesters who have turned their campus into a battlefield, mainland students staying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in  Sha Tin have found themselves among the more fortunate, as the university has a Shenzhen campus that opened its doors to them from late yesterday.

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Hong Kong as regional HQ: time to move?

For those who care to look, the Hong Kong protests are exposing flaws in many assumptions about Hong Kong’s competitiveness. This is not only a short-term concern, either. As revenues come under pressure, partly due to the protests, partly due to a slowing Chinese economy, operating costs are inevitably being looked at more carefully by companies based in “Asia’s World City”. It would be surprising if only a few were considering moving or scaling back their operations here.

The question is: Can other cities in the Greater Bay Area offer compelling alternatives?

The short answer would be: Yes. But do some homework first.

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In Hong Kong, end slips further out of sight

We ended our weekend analysis of the situation in Hong Kong by urging readers to remain calm and look ahead to see how a change of approach by Beijing might play out in the coming weeks and months. We didn’t have to wait long to see this advice put sorely to the test. It would have taken a deeply rooted stoicism to remain calm in the midst of Hong Kong’s newsflow today. Another shooting by police, a man set on fire, university campuses in chaos, and teargas and stormtroopers in Central: such scenes were surely enough to have sent anyone running for the exits. SCMP has it all.

We never said that Hong Kong’s situation was likely to get better anytime soon. On the contrary, it has seemed evident for some time that what is playing out now is still the prelude to a long, drawn-out conflict that will get significantly worse before it gets better. It would be right and proper to hope for peace to prevail as soon as possible, but it would be wise to plan for worse to come.

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Visitors get a taste of Chinese online payments

Fintech Week is proving to be a global PR bonanza for Hong Kong. Local media have been buzzing for the past two days about Alipay’s decision to open its payment platform inside the Chinese mainland to foreigners, the announcement of which was clearly timed to coincide with the Hong Kong event. And Mu Changchun, the central bank’s whizzkid overseeing the imminent launch of the digital Renminbi, kept the momentum going yesterday by suggesting foreigners could use it, too.

As reported by SCMP, Mu said the central bank is working to separate the virtual currency from the banking system. “Actually it could be decoupled from traditional bank accounts,” he said during an event at Fintech Week, which is being held at the AsiaWorld-Expo. “Thus, those who don’t have bank accounts in China can still open a digital wallet and enjoy mobile payment services in China.”

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Hong Kong’s role in GBA: keep calm and carry on

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has received a bag of 16 goodies from her bosses in Beijing related to Hong Kong’s role within the Greater Bay Area. And the city’s role, in case anyone was wondering, is “completely unchanged”, she says.

The shiniest of these gifts from the central government is a complete relaxation on restrictions for Hong Kong residents to buy apartments in the nine Guangdong cities of the GBA.

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Office vacancy rates rise in all GBA cities

Savills has released a report on the Greater Bay Area’s office market that shows supply is increasing at a fast pace, pushing up vacancy rates.

While Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou remain in strong demand compared to the rest, even they are seeing rates that should be enough to keep landlords awake at night.

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Bracing for a drop in Hong Kong

It’s hard to see where Hong Kong is headed, now that the government has decided to invoke emergency powers to ban the use of face masks at protests. There are at least two evident certainties: that protesters will be energized, leading to a rise in violence levels; and that arrest numbers will climb. Beyond that, however, it remains to be seen whether the announcement will hasten a decision in Washington to restrict financial flows through Hong Kong or result in any other damage to the city’s economy caused by a loss of investor confidence.

Key to monitor is whether the decision can be effective in quelling the protests. This, too, is hard to guess at the moment. It will likely embolden the more radical protesters, and radicalize others who had previously been hesitant to commit acts of violence. Yet it will also likely result in violent protesters being taken out of action quicker, blunting the protests as their more charismatic leadership is neutralized. Whether this turns out to be net positive or negative will take time to ascertain.

In the meantime, and apologies if this sounds Cyclopian, but the Greater Bay Area is not likely to be able to chug along as normal and pretend that what’s happening in Hong Kong won’t affect the rest. Putting aside the damage inflicted on the region by plunging international tourism – especially business tourism – it is important to be realistic about the effects of the Hong Kong crisis on the pace and scope of reforms being implemented in the GBA.

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Hong Kong gets reform agenda rolling

American scholar Andrew Nathan has an interesting piece in Foreign Affairs summarizing what “insiders” say is Beijing’s approach to the crisis in Hong Kong. Though the presentation of this analysis fits too neatly into a US-centric worldview, it helps explain why the Hong Kong government is moving quickly to address the city’s dire shortage of housing: Because the central government believes the protests are being driven primarily by intolerable socio-economic conditions. Fix those, and the rest will take care of itself.

The logic has appeal. While Nathan’s sources are almost certainly wrong to suggest that the country’s senior leadership isn’t worried about addressing the political dimension of the protests, it makes sense to train attention and resources on fixing first what can be fixed easiest. Any capable government would be taking this approach.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Beijing misunderstands where the protesters’ rage is coming from. The country’s leadership probably knows all too well that the crisis is not going to be fixed with bread alone. But it also likely understands that without a commitment to deep socio-economic reform, no other grievances can be addressed in a sustainable way. Fixing the land issue is about much more than bringing down the cost of living. It’s about changing the way people live.

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HK stares at tourism abyss as funds keep flowing

Hong Kong remains China’s key gateway for foreign investment despite the protests, according to the latest data from Beijing. As SCMP reports, China received US$62.9 billion in foreign direct investment via Hong Kong in the first eight months of this year, accounting for 70 per cent of total inflows. The rise was even sharper once the monthly number for August was calculated: US$7.53 billion, up 29.2% from the same month last year.

It’s hard to blame or credit these flows on anything Hong Kong is doing, as Investment decisions into China are often months, if not years, in the planning. Still, the numbers might bring some comfort at a time when the tourism pillar of the economy is crumbling. 

According to this SCMP report, Causeway Bay is struggling, with one in ten shops standing empty and thousands of staff facing job losses. We think a very painful withdrawal experience lies ahead as the city is forced off the drug that it has been hooked on since 2003. Mainland tourists have other options, including Macau, and once mainland tariffs on imported goods start being completely repealed, they will likely have little reason to come back – even if the protests somehow start to subside.

Across the city, the hotel industry is reeling. But landlords appear to be doing what they do best: forcing management companies to let go of staff while they figure out the best way to reconvert the buildings into office space. And they are in the meantime looking to move their real-estate projects as fast as possible before prices start to fall off a cliff as the government strong-arms them into offering below-market discounts.

Hong Kong needs a big, new vision for its future.