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A Brighter Future
20 years after returning to the motherland, Hong Kong is poised to usher in a new round of development
By Zan Jifang | NO. 24 JUNE 15, 2017

A double-decker bus on a street in Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong's major shopping districts, on June 3 (XINHUA)

Just beside a forest of skyscrapers in the heart of Hong Kong, a big curve-shaped and multilayered structure is under construction. This is the West Kowloon Terminus of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which will shorten the travel time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou in the Chinese mainland to less than one hour.

Not far from the railway station, another cube-shaped building has already entered its final phase of construction. When it's opened to the public in late 2018, it will be a special venue for traditional Chinese opera performances in the West Kowloon Cultural District, a vibrant cultural quarter of the city that is taking shape.

Further north, in the New Territories, an exhibition on smart elderly care technology is being held in the Hong Kong Science Park, a major component of the city's innovation and technology ecosystem.

These are just some glimpses of today's Hong Kong, a dynamic society where creativity and entrepreneurship converge. They also change the image of Hong Kong in most people's minds. The metropolis is trying to tell the world that it is not only a heaven for shopping and food.

On the 20th anniversary of its return to the motherland, Hong Kong is proud of what it has achieved in the past two decades and is more confident about what it looks forward to realizing in the future.

The night view of Victoria Harbor, a major tourist attraction in Hong Kong, on May 26 (XINHUA)

Thriving economy

China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, ending more than 150 years of British colonial rule of the region.

Before the official handover, the city was clouded by wide concerns about whether a capitalist economy could survive in a

socialist system. Some Western media even predicted that Hong Kong would die. As a direct result of such pessimistic views, a tide of emigration occurred in Hong Kong during that time.

Now, two decades later, Hong Kong not only has survived, but also has become more robust.

According to statistics issued by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government, Hong Kong has seen stable economic growth over the past 20 years. In 2016, its GDP reached $320 billion, an increase of 81 percent compared to that in 1997. By March this year, the fiscal reserves of Hong Kong amounted to around HK$1 trillion ($128.27 billion), while the number for the same period in 1997 was HK$370.7 billion ($47.55 billion). The official foreign exchange reserves managed by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority had increased from $92.8 billion in 1997 to $390.5 billion at the end of February.

The labor market has remained stable in the past six years, with a low unemployment rate. In 2016, the total employed population was 3.8 million, an increase of 650,000 compared to 20 years ago.

People in Hong Kong enjoy longevity. The life expectancy for men is 81 years old and for women is 87, some of the highest life expectancy figures among developed economies.

Hong Kong's economic freedom has been affirmed over the long term internationally. It has topped the world competitiveness rankings, compiled by the World Competitiveness Center of the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, for two consecutive years.

The Fraser Institute, a Canadian public policy think tank, announced in 2016 that Hong Kong was the most "economically free" place in the world, thereby bestowing the accolade on the city for several years in a row.

Hong Kong has also been ranked as the world's freest economy for 22 consecutive years by the Washington-based think tank Heritage Foundation.

Its excellent business environment has attracted nearly 8,000 overseas and mainland enterprises to establish offices in Hong Kong, including some 3,800 regional headquarters.

A tourist takes photos of Choi Hung Estate, one of the oldest public housing estates in Hong Kong, on May 17 (XINHUA)

One country, two systems

It is a consensus in Hong Kong that its economic boom is founded on its free and open trade, the rule of law, fair competition and a simple tax system. But it is also more widely agreed that the cornerstone for Hong Kong's sustained prosperity and stability after returning to the motherland is the successful implementation of the principle of "one country, two systems," an unprecedented and pioneering creation, which then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called a conception of genius.

Zhang Xiaoming, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central Government in Hong Kong, introduced the birth of this principle to media in Hong Kong in May.

"One country, two systems" was originally a concept put forward by the then Chinese leadership to solve the questions related to Hong Kong and Macao, he said. "It is actually a general concept consisting of a series of principles and policies of the Central Government on Hong Kong. We can also call it the basic principle."

Based on this, the Chinese Government signed a joint declaration on the question of Hong Kong with the British Government in 1984. In April 1990, the Basic Law of Hong Kong SAR was promulgated. After Hong Kong returned to the motherland in 1997, the city entered a new era, and the principle of "one country, two systems" was officially implemented in Hong Kong. From this sense, it is a new political practice, a new system and a new governance model, Zhang said.

"In my opinion, the 20 years of practice of this principle can produce a proper and accurate assessment," Zhang said. "It is the best solution for resolving the question of Hong Kong."

Leung Chun Ying, Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, holds that the concept is scientific and pragmatic. He said the Central Government has paid high attention to promoting Hong Kong's development.

As a member of the group participating in drawing up the Basic Law, Leung said a high degree of autonomy that Hong Kong enjoys is an important part of the Basic Law.

He recalled the decision to make Hong Kong dollars the currency of Hong Kong after its return to the motherland. "This is one of the policies under the principle of 'one country, two systems.' Few people could imagine before 1997 that a country could have two currencies at the same time."

For Tung Chee Hwa, the first chief executive of Hong Kong SAR, the principle of "one country, two systems" is very important to Hong Kong. "We have witnessed tangible benefits of it since 1997," he said.

In 2003, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a viral respiratory illness, hit Hong Kong, taking many people's lives. Medical resources were in great shortage. After the Central Government knew the need of Hong Kong, emergency medical supplies were sent there immediately, giving a timely hand to the suffering city. Also, after the SARS epidemic, to help Hong Kong's economy shake off its sluggish state, the Central Government allowed individual mainland tourists to travel to Hong Kong, which gave a very effective boost to Hong Kong's economic recovery.

"The biggest benefit of the 'one country, two systems' principle is that Hong Kong has gained strong support from the Central Government," Tung said.

The "one country, two systems" principle also ensured that the way of life of Hong Kong people and the core values in Hong Kong have remained unchanged.

"We have maintained our legal institutions, independent judicial system, freedom, human rights and legal system, which can be seen as the original will of the 'one country, two systems' principle," said Carrie Lam, Chief Executive-elect of Hong Kong SAR. She will take office on July 1.

According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong has independent finances, and the Central Government shall not levy taxes in the SAR.

"Through maintaining the unique system of Hong Kong, the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong has been safeguarded," said Lam.

Just as she said, enjoying the benefits of "one country," as well as the advantages of "two systems," Hong Kong has long maintained its status as an international financial, shipping and trade hub.

The West Kowloon Cultural District will be one of the largest cultural projects in the world upon completion(XINHUA)

Structural adjustment

However, despite sustained economic growth, Hong Kong has also encountered a bottleneck during its development. The structure of its economy has not adapted to the fast changing external environment. It is highly dependent on its traditional industries, such as finance and services, while the manufacturing sector has not developed for a long time. Realizing this, the SAR Government has taken some measures, hoping to optimize Hong Kong's economic structure and develop new industries based on its own strengths. Culture, innovation and technology are the major fields that the government will promote in the future.

The West Kowloon Cultural District, a world-class, comprehensive cultural and art area, is under construction adjacent to the famous Victoria Harbor. It is an ambitious move by the SAR Government to forge the city's cultural industry. According to the official website of the district, the vision for the project is to meet the long-term infrastructure and development needs of Hong Kong's arts and cultural sector, provide quality programs with a must-visit appeal, foster organic growth and development of cultural and creative industries, as well as become a hub for attracting and nurturing talents.

Occupying an area of 40 hectares, the district is one of the largest cultural projects worldwide. Most of its venues will be opened within five years. When the district is fully put into operation, it will provide a place that brings together art, education and public space and supports the production, presentation and learning of performing arts of all disciplines.

The Xiqu Center, the first landmark performing arts venue in the district, will be open next year. "It will uphold its mission to preserve and develop the art of traditional opera through performance, new repertory, education, research and exchange programs," said Louis Yu, Executive Director of Performing Arts of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. "In the coming years, we will focus on nurturing new talents and connecting with the traditional opera communities in the Greater China region."

Besides the promotion of the cultural industry, Hong Kong has also stepped onto a road of development driven by innovation and technology. In 2015, the SAR Government set up a new bureau to formulate policies and coordinate the development of this sector.

According to Fanny Law, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp., the innovation and technology industry in Hong Kong basically started in 1999. Since 2000, the SAR Government has increased investment in this field. Now, Hong Kong has become one of top five science and technology innovation centers with the fastest growth in the world.

Talent and research and development capabilities are the major advantages for Hong Kong to advance in this area, she said.

With its more mature ecosystem for innovation and technology, Hong Kong has attracted a number of top-notch scientific and research institutes to set up branches there.

In February 2015, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, one of the largest and most prestigious medical universities in the world, announced that it would launch a research center in Hong Kong, the first overseas branch of the institute.

In November the same year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced its launch of an innovation center in Hong Kong, the university's first overseas center on innovation.

The Hong Kong Science Park, which focuses on research and development, now hosts 638 companies, with a working population of more than 13,000.

Carrie Ling, a technical leader at the healthy aging platform in the park, is one of the senior talents attracted by the park. She assumed the post two years ago. Before that, she taught in a university.

"The reasons why I chose to work here are that now I can give some help to enterprises and, at the same time, I hope to participate in the construction of a bio-medical ecosystem, which will provide more working opportunities for young people in Hong Kong," she said. "The Science Park has grown fast; now it has around 90 bio-medical companies, and they cover different areas in the industry."

New opportunities

With regard to its future development, Hong Kong has turned its eyes to the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 and the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Hong Kong has actively responded to the Belt and Road Initiative. In August 2016, the SAR Government set up an office especially for Belt and Road development affairs.

Chief Executive Leung said Hong Kong must seize the opportunities provided by the Belt and Road Initiative and the construction of the Greater Bay Area, and the prospects are rosy. To do so, Hong Kong must be further integrated with the mainland.

He stressed that Hong Kong is an important spot along the Belt and Road. "Enterprises in Hong Kong and the mainland can give full play to their own advantages and go out by sharing the same boat," Leung said.

Leung also calls Hong Kong a "super connector," which can both help enterprises in the mainland explore overseas markets and, at the same time, attract foreign companies. "When participating in the Belt and Road development, we must consider what the country needs and what Hong Kong is good at," he said.

A 29-person delegation from Hong Kong, led by Leung, attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in May. At a thematic session on financial connectivity, Leung delivered a speech, which shows that the Central Government believes that Hong Kong can play an important role in financing in the Belt and Road development.

Besides the Belt and Road, the planned Greater Bay Area—a city cluster that will include nine cities in Guangdong Province in the mainland as well as Hong Kong and Macao—also presents a good opportunity for Hong Kong enterprises and business people.

"If the reform and opening up of the mainland acts as one wing of Hong Kong's development, then another wing would be the Greater Bay Area," Leung said, referring to the importance of the scheme to Hong Kong.

"How to participate in the Greater Bay Area construction is the focus of our future work," said Jonathan Choi Koon Shum, Chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong, a non-profit organization of local Chinese firms and business people.

"For a long time, the cooperation between Hong Kong and Guangdong has been the most important part of the connection between Hong Kong and the mainland," Choi said. "And, the nine [Guangdong] cities included in the Greater Bay Area are basically the so-called 'World Factory,' and Hong Kong's participation is indispensable to their development. How to upgrade the 'World Factory' and cultivate a new development model? Hong Kong should communicate more with the mainland."

In Choi's opinion, the cities in the Greater Bay Area should have different orientations and complement one other. Coordinated development should be carried out, not vicious competition. Choi said Hong Kong's orientation should be its finance and professional services.

"To Hong Kong people, Guangdong is a place on their doorstep. The people on both sides share the same culture and language. We are a family. Thus the development of the Greater Bay Area is an important direction in Hong Kong's future," Choi said.

His remarks echoed the theme of the 20th anniversary celebration for Hong Kong's return to the motherland—Together, Progress and Opportunities.

When Hong Kong people join hands with mainland people and make joint efforts, the future of both Hong Kong and the entire nation will be brighter still.

(Reporting from Hong Kong)

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com

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