CY’s Last Call: Business looks at the Policy Address 2016

The upcoming Policy Address will be the last chance for CY Leung and his cabinet to outline an annual plan to fulfil the outstanding promises he made in the past four years to improve Hong Kong’s business environment. It had better be good if he is to secure a second term in office.


 

Four isn’t a lucky number in Cantonese, nor 13 for the Western world, but it will have to do for our Chief Executive. The business community will be watching his fourth policy address on January 13 especially closely.

This policy address will be his last chance to realise outstanding promises he made during the CE election in 2012. This policy address and the execution on that plan will be the yardstick by which he is measured for re-election in 2017. He seems to understand this; last year’s Policy Address was mostly making the case about how he much had been accomplished in the previous year with much less verbiage devoted to his plan for 2015. Expect more of the same as he seeks to prove his worth for 2017 and beyond.

While Leung does not necessarily need to appeal to the entire Hong Kong public to seek another term in office, reclaiming some of his lost popularity and showing to the 1,200-strong Election Committee (EC) that he is an able leader would do him no harm.

An important constituency is the business community, worth 300 EC votes in the industry, commercial and financial sectors, and many of the business oriented professions (perhaps another 150 votes). Stamp duties, export restrictions, restrictions on tourists and parallel traders and more have all hit business interests. However, aggressive pursuit of major infrastructure projects, albeit with mixed results, can only please the various building related constituencies. Based on previous policy papers and recent developments, here are some of the elements that will likely appear in the 2016 Policy Address.

 

Development & Housing

Population, Welfare & Labour

Transport

Environment

Closing words

 

Economic: Hong Kong’s role as ‘super-connector’

Our Chief Executive has been quick to adopt some of the rhetoric of his Beijing superiors. Generously described as high-level, the less generous may describe some of this rhetoric as vacuous. An example of this is the concept of Hong Kong as a ‘super-connector,’ linking up mainland China and the world.

Another high level rhetorical meme frequently bandied about of late is the mainland’s ‘One Belt, One Road’. It is hard to find anyone clear on the details, but is loosely defined as a wide range of initiatives to promote infrastructure, finance and trade connections to China throughout Asia, the Middle East and onwards to Europe.

Hong Kong’s role is as ill-defined as China’s actual plans. The Chief Executive will be beholden to the rhetoric and adapt current plans to fit under the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and promote Hong Kong as a ‘super-connector.’

In this sense, measures to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as an international trading, shipping and financial centre, as well as the world’s Renminbi offshore business hub will likely be featured in the policy address. A surprise move that would please the business community would be a promise to pursue entrance into the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Such a promise could only be made with Beijing’s blessing. Successfully pursuing it would be another matter, but it would also show up localists by indicating Hong Kong’s ability to pursue a self-serving trade policy independent of Beijing.

On infrastructure, commitment to the controversial Third Runway project and the Airport Authority’s Master Plan 2030 as elements of supporting the ‘One Belt, One Road’ plan will indicate his commitment to ensure it happens in the face of local or legislative opposition.

Another likely promise will be to promote Hong Kong as an Intellectual Property (IP) trading hub, including his commitment to passing the “Article 23 of the Internet”, the amendments to the Copyright Ordinance, currently mired in LegCo filibusters. This would please creative industries, the software industry and international investors in entertainment and pharmaceutical industries.

Retail and tourism have taken a hit recently – mostly by design. Many Hong Kongers wanted fewer parallel day traders buying in Hong Kong and they’ve got it, much of it from CY’s policies. He will now have to mollify those in full panic mode as tourism and retail numbers take a vertiginous plunge.

He may tout the creation of the Travel Industry Authority, pending lawmakers’ approval, as his answer to the drop in tourism, by providing protections against so-called forced shopping. He’ll also likely talk up programs that are repeated annually, like the Jetso shopping promotion campaign launched last year. New measures will likely be absent unless someone has had another not very original idea about another shopping festival style promotion. Some of the greats of Hong Kong tourism, like Allan Zeman, have been sidelined in recent years, leaving lesser lights to feed ideas to the CE.

On innovation and technology, look for him to revel in the final approval of the Innovation and Technology Bureau and cite their major objectives (click here) as part of his on-going commitment in this area. No new plans will be unveiled here – just enacting previously stated goals.

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Alex Fok

Alex Fok

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong’s daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society’s magazine – PASSTIMES.
Alex Fok

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