"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Covid and the response mounted to contain it has ripped through the economy; 2500 restaurants closed, the tourist industry collapsed, and many other sectors suffered."
Has Hong Kong lost its mojo? Is the sun setting? Indeed, many believe that Covid restrictions coupled with the polarisation in society following the 2019 protests are driving people away.
Moreover, Covid and the response mounted to contain it has ripped through the economy; 2500 restaurants closed, the tourist industry collapsed, and many other sectors suffered. As a consequence, our GDP is slipping.
In certain quarters a mood of despondency reigns; "Hong Kong is not the same," goes the often heard lament. Well, yes indeed. It's not the same town that greeted me in 1980.
Rampant street crime, people living in precarious hilltop shanty homes, and other social ills are gone. Over time the economy evolved, more kids went into higher education, and we have the highest life expectancy on the planet.
But, our Gini coefficient affirms at 0.53 what we can all see; a considerable gap between the rich and poor. Cage homes and other housing issues blight us. These are issues successive administrations failed to address with any significant impact, and contributed to the unrest we've seen.
Recent data released by the government confirms that Hong Kong's population has fallen by 1.6 per cent. The headlines sought to portray this as an exodus. Yet, migration is one factor in a more complicated picture.
The falling birth rate, deaths, and a lack of arrivals from the Mainland on the one-way permit scheme due to Covid are contributing factors. In the past decade, we've seen net outflows of residents for most years.
Births are at a record low as Hong Kong couples continue to opt out of child-rearing. This fall-off is a worldwide trend typical of emerging middle-class societies. The cost of raising a child, associated hassles and a shift in cultural norms all contribute to this trend. For example, I observed some time ago that Hong Kong women prefer dogs to children.
On the migrant front, some 113,000 residents left the city, heading to the U.K., U.S.A, Canada and other places in the past year. Again, the U.K.'s BNO scheme is a pull factor in that direction. Likewise, generous offers from Canada have found favour.
With many countries in the West suffering labour shortages across multiple disciplines, attracting talent from overseas makes sense. With Brexit the U.K. made the situation worse, hence like the Windrush generation from the Caribbean in the 1950s, Hong Kong people provide a ready supply of manpower.
Another factor at work is Hong Kong's high-pressure education system which many kids find daunting. Modern parents are less likely to endorse the exam-focused, rigid drilling many Hong Kong schools adopt. Having an opportunity to take their kids overseas, they will do that.
If a couple owns a flat in Hong Kong, they can sell up and buy a decent sized house in the U.K. with cash to spare. Going down that road may mean a short-term drop in status to bet on a brighter future.
It's typical to hear of former middle managers heading to the U.K to land a job labouring in a warehouse or stacking shelves. In time these migrants should do well.
In the bigger picture, this is all part of a multi-generational movement that saw Hong Kongers heading overseas since the 1960s. The British Chinese takeaway business started with departures in the 1960s/1970s as New Territories residents moved to Britain. None of these departures collapsed the economy here.
On the expat front, I know several families who've opted to leave or move away from our draconian Covid rules. Disrupted schooling, hotel quarantine and the other impacts of Covid are proving a significant turn-off, especially for those with a young family. They see that life is returning to normal in the U.K., U.S.A, and elsewhere.
And while the loss of talent may have an initial impact, Hong Kong can draw upon the vast population of China. Anecdotal evidence suggests that western educated mainlanders are filling the gaps as expats leave. But, again, this is nothing new as Hong Kong has always drawn people from the north.
Other factors that favour Hong Kong are geography. It sits next to the most significant economic conurbation that continues to grow. Moreover, as a service hub for the Greater Bay Area, our economy will benefit and shift its focus again. So, yes, things are changing.
Former governor Chris Patten remarked, "Never bet against Hong Kong." And on that score, the old tango dancer was right. The sun is setting, but then follows dawn to herald a new day.
Lastly, further relaxing our rigid quarantine rules on travel will help restore confidence that Hong Kong remains an international player.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.