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Hong Kong CEO John Lee delivers his policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Oct. 19 2022. Picture: BLOOMBERG/PAUL YEUNG
Hong Kong CEO John Lee delivers his policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Oct. 19 2022. Picture: BLOOMBERG/PAUL YEUNG

Hong Kong — Making his first policy address on Wednesday, Hong Kong CEO John Lee prioritised improving competitiveness and attracting more overseas talent, while also stressing the need to bolster national security in the Chinese-ruled city.

While some Western governments, including the US, have said the erosion of rights and freedoms has hurt Hong Kong’s business climate and worsened a brain drain, Lee pledged to tighten control, referencing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s directives for the city in a speech at the start of a major party congress in Beijing.

“We will further strengthen the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security,” said Lee. The proposed new laws would regulate areas including cybersecurity, crowdfunding activities and false information, he added.

Lee, who took up his job in July and was sanctioned by the US in 2020 for his role in the crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms, did not give a time frame for this.

Possessing limited financial experience, Lee faces multiple challenges restoring Hong Kong’s fortunes as a financial hub after several years of upheaval that resulted in it losing ground to regional rivals like Singapore.

Over 200,000 foreigners and Hong Kongers, including young people who had been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests, left the city in the past two years, having been unsettled by China exerting more control over political freedoms and a heavy-handed approach to fighting the spread of Covid-19.

Trawl for talent

Lee said two-year visas would be made available to individuals earning salaries of 2.5-million Hong Kong dollars ($318,475) or more during the past year, and graduates from the world’s top 100 universities with at least three years of work experience

“Apart from actively nurturing and retaining local talents, the government will proactively trawl the world for talents,” Lee said in his speech to local legislators.

Overseas talent choosing to become permanent residents in Hong Kong would also be given stamp-duty refunds for a first residential property purchase.

Lee said 30-billion Hong Kong dollars ($3.82 billion) would go into a “Co-Investment Fund” to attract enterprises to set up operations.

Property

On housing, long a thorny issue for Hong Kong leaders in one of the world’s most expensive property markets, Lee pledged to provide enough land for the provision of not less than 72,000 residential units in the next five years.

“We will enhance quantity, speed, efficiency and quality in land production, staying on top of things and putting in place a long-term plan to steadily increase supply,” he said.

Despite an estimated 10% fall in prices this year, Lee stopped short of announcing any bold moves, such as easing property cooling measures implemented over the past decade.

The Hang Seng Property Index rose as much as 2.8% before the speech, but pared back those gains to 0.4% by midday.

Reuters

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