Why Hong Kong telling world’s story to China is just as important

Yet the mainland and Hong Kong remain fundamentally different because of the “one country, two systems” principle, which President Xi Jinping pledged would continue past 2047 during his visit to Hong Kong in 2022. As Beijing reorients itself to deepen ties with and further open up to global businesses, Hong Kong must steer clear of parochialist tendencies and embrace genuine internationalism.

Only by preserving our freedom of information flows, openness to foreign capital and visitors and an appetite for vigorous, critical debate can we live up to our role as China’s pressure valve and a unique site for forward-thinking experimentation. This is how we can best serve China and the world.

What does it mean in terms of concrete policies? First, Hong Kong should aspire to become the hub of migration and human capital for southern China, massively scaling up its efforts to attract talented people to settle in the city and eventually become permanent residents.
People sit by an installation by French artist Camille Walala for “Planet Walala@Harbour City”, a public art show, in Hong Kong on April 12. Hong Kong should aspire to become the hub of human capital for southern China. Photo: AFP
The Hong Kong government should unveil an ambitious 10-year population target that is considerably higher than the current 7.5 million, something achievable through gradually increasing immigration. With the right infrastructure and housing put into place, this move could go a long way in signalling our receptiveness to newcomers and old friends alike, while offering much-needed support to our sluggish property market.
The government should also align its list of favoured professions for entry with its fledgling industrial policies. Existing initiatives such as the Top Talent Pass Scheme have attracted a large number of mainland applicants. However, what of measures aimed at attracting entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and students from the Middle East and Southeast Asia who could play an instrumental role in bridging China and these regions?

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Hong Kong could also pursue long-overdue measures, such as an unlimited-entry Greater Bay Area visa for high-net-worth individuals who settle in Hong Kong with significant investments and capital presence, or designated international schools for children of expatriate workers from these regions. These can serve as gestures of goodwill as well as practical remedies to barriers putting off prospective inbound capital.

Second, our higher education and academic sector must serve as knowledge exchange incubators enriching China’s understanding of and research ties with the rest of the world. Hong Kong universities should strategically court top academics and researchers from around the world.

Emerging markets such as Central and West Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have young, dynamic populations. Many of their brightest and most aspirational youth would benefit from enrolling at the top-notch education institutions in our city. With five out of the top 100 universities in the world, Hong Kong can be immensely attractive to these young people as cradles for their educational and professional development.
We should scale up the number of scholarships aimed at applicants from the Global South which are linked to internship and employment opportunities across the Greater Bay Area. This would not only aid in winning the competition for talent against more proactive regional rivals but also bolster the goodwill towards Hong Kong among our neighbours in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan – each of them a large city with huge demand for foreign talent.

Third, the public and private sectors must both strive to make use of Hong Kong as a leading site for track-II engagements and dialogue. Now that the dust has settled on various pieces of national security legislation, the city must show that it can still serve as a conduit for important conversations between leading business figures, top financiers and intellectuals who can exert influence on decision-makers.

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While topics such as the crackdown on fentanyl and climate change cooperation have emerged as key issues within Sino-American track-II dialogues, much remains underexplored. Issues meriting further attention include facilitating cultural and artistic exchanges between independent artists, alignment on AI safety and regulation, and improving local and provincial governance.
In granting Hong Kong institutions the academic freedom to discuss and explore certain issues that are deemed too sensitive or taboo on the mainland, Beijing could use Hong Kong as a relatively neutral platform for difficult yet necessary conversations on challenging areas such as the public-private sector relationship, sluggish consumption rebound and China’s image abroad.

In inviting and hosting in-depth discussions with experts who are constructively critical and not opposed to China’s success, Hong Kong can play an instrumental role in allowing Chinese bureaucrats and policymakers to seek truth from facts. By telling a truthful and comprehensive story of the world to China, the city can thus demonstrate to Beijing that the uniqueness of Hong Kong’s system is not a liability but an invaluable asset.

Brian Wong is an assistant professor in philosophy at the University of Hong Kong, and a Rhodes Scholar and adviser on strategy for the Oxford Global Society


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