Not time for HK to follow S'pore lead

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Oct 2021

If American Chamber of Commerce president Tara Joseph felt like she had been talking to a brick wall when trying to raise to the government its concern over Hong Kong's strict quarantine restrictions, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was trying to break down the wall of communication - even though a wall remains.

Lam was trying to answer the concerns of AmCham and its European counterpart during the Bloomberg TV interview.

Foreign companies doing business in Hong Kong are getting increasingly restless over the city's tough demand that residents returning to the SAR face up to 21 days of mandatory quarantine in designated hotels.

These companies have become restless because their executives cannot fly home to meet families and friends unless they are willing to be locked up for three weeks on their return. Further, few staff are willing to relocate here until after quarantine restrictions are eased.

Although the difficulties may be overcome by teleconferencing, this cannot substitute for in-person communication.

No doubt these companies are under rising pressure due to the Covid travel restrictions. However, during the interview, Lam did not drop any hint that those restrictions would be eased in the near future.

She confirmed that a number of parameters must be met, but she stopped short of speaking about them in length - although she did mention vaccination and the need to align a cross-border health-code app.

It's likely that members of both AmCham and the European Chamber of Commerce will have to bear with the situation for a while.

Nonetheless, Lam at least stated the facts facing not only the foreign companies but also everybody else in the SAR.

Even though the wall of travel restrictions remains, it would be wise to break down the wall of silence to facilitate communication.

Evident in Lam's remarks is that the government's Covid policy priority is to align its measures, including the zero-infection policy and health-code app, as closely as possible to that of the mainland - and that, from the mainland's perspective, it is not a choice but a requirement and the SAR can only comply with it.

Had Hong Kong opted otherwise to follow Singapore's example to open up its borders gradually and steadily to other countries but keep its border with the mainland shut, it would not have been meaningful in practical terms.

Overseas companies come to Hong Kong to access the mainland. Without an open border with the mainland, would they have come to Hong Kong?

The pleas of both AmCham and the ECC indirectly confirm these companies cannot go elsewhere if they want to do business with China - otherwise, they might have already left.

Conditions are not yet mature for Hong Kong to follow Singapore's example.

The Lion City's high vaccination rate has enabled it to go on the offensive to open up its international borders.

By contrast, with its slow vaccination progress, the SAR can only play on the defensive until more people are fully vaccinated.

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October 2021

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