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SCMP Opinion: For itself and China, Hong Kong’s only recipe for success is to be a truly international city

  • Hong Kong must strengthen its global links, lead the Greater Bay Area integration and educate our young into tomorrow’s pioneers of innovation

  • It’s high time Hong Kong thought more progressively and comprehensively about China’s needs, and what we can bring to the table

Hong Kong has historically been a key cornerstone to China’s reform and opening up. As the city turns a new page, for it to serve its residents and the rest of the country at the same time, it must remain the most international, open and pluralistic city on Chinese soil. Indeed, our distinctive mixture of substantial economic freedoms, robust common-law jurisdiction and cosmopolitan ethos has seen this city go from strength to strength.

Yet the world we live in today is experiencing an unprecedented intersection of challenges. Geopolitical conflicts and tensions, socioeconomic inequalities, and existential risks such as climate change and pandemics, have contributed to growing discontent across the world.

Hong Kong, too, stands at a crossroads. Staying the course is no longer sufficient. Hong Kong must proactively deepen and broaden its engagement with the world. We should not serve merely as a bridge connecting two circles – China, and the rest of the world. Instead, we must strive towards becoming a beacon of transformation that sublimates and elevates both circles.

Only then can Hong Kong play its part in China’s journey towards becoming a truly respected, interconnected and compassionate global power. For Hong Kong to not only survive but revitalise itself, the only path lies in internationalisation.

First, we must rethink what “international” means. I spent most of my career straddling both sides of the Pacific. I count myself among the foremost beneficiaries of the golden era of globalisation.

Indeed, this city has long served as a confluence of ideas and between the East and West, whether for entrepreneurs, investors or scientists such as myself.

We live in an increasingly multipolar world. We must strengthen our global links to old partners, yet also build a stronger and more expansive network of new friends. We not only need a global network in trade and financial services, but must also build links in the academic community to advance innovation in Hong Kong.

Asean is the fastest-growing trade bloc in the world, and on track to become its fourth-largest economy. Hong Kong, as an Asian city with a highly integrated and advanced infrastructure, a robust rule of law and professional services, and an exceptionally talented workforce, is well placed to serve as the hub conjoining Southeast and Northeast Asia – providing a foothold for Southeast Asian businesses into China, but also Chinese capital in supporting innovation across the region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Hong Kong can also play host to Sino-Gulf joint ventures in both parties’ large-scale green transitions, data-informed venture philanthropy and re-industrialisation.

The European Union, a community built around a firm commitment to shared values and transnational solidarity, has long been among our city’s firmest friends. With the EU, we must deepen our cultural synergy and exchanges, as well as broaden the depths of academic collaboration in fields from artificial intelligence to transparent governance.

It is high time Hong Kong thought more progressively and comprehensively about China’s needs, and what we can bring to the table.

Second, the recent call for integration with the Greater Bay Area has opened a new chapter for the city, which goes hand in hand with Hong Kong’s internationalisation. Hong Kong has long served China as an experimental ground for institutional and regulatory reforms. We must seek to lead and drive developments in the Greater Bay Area, as opposed to merely assimilating.

We must maintain our globally respected and competitive human capital, attractively low tax rates and distinctive capitalist system, high levels of academic openness and robust discussions, while abiding by the laws and baselines of our country, to contribute meaningfully towards the prosperity and flourishing of the Greater Bay Area.

There can be no “two systems” without respect for “one country”. Similarly, it is the organic distinctions between the two systems that come to holistically advance the interests of the one country. As the Greater Bay Area moves from being a manufacturing- and export-driven economy into a megapolis driven by technology, innovation and high-skilled services, Hong Kong must step up to attract top-class from across the world.

It must also maintain an unwavering commitment to accountability and professionalism as it draws upon international capital in propelling capital-intensive research and development in the region – across fields from biomedical science and energy technology to the metaverse.

Third, in embracing this era of great flux, our education system must empower our students to be the pioneers of today, and the leaders of tomorrow. Globalisation is by no means just about trade and finance, important as they are. We must lead the era in tackling global challenges that the human race faces.

This is why the University of Hong Kong is establishing 10 new institutes pursuing strategic and multidisciplinary research in areas from global poverty mitigation and energy science to biomedical engineering. In so doing, we strive to equip our students with soft skills – from debating and public speaking, to the ability to think laterally and flexibly under constraint.

As an educator and academic leader, it falls upon me and my many stellar colleagues at the HKU to nurture the many generations of talents that shall steer Hong Kong and the rest of China forward.

Education is an inherently dialogical process. Teachers learn from students as much as the other way round. Newcomers learn from old hands, and the converse also holds true. HKU must remain a place where any and all rational and respectful dialogue can be held, on topics of the utmost importance to us all.

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace. We, too, must have the courage to change, without forgetting that Hong Kong’s recipe for success is its inherent internationalism.


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For itself and China, Hong Kong’s only recipe for success is to be a truly international city

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