Time may be on side of policy delay

Central Station | Mary Ma 13 Oct 2020

The decision to postpone the policy address that was to have been given tomorrow was one that was taken at the last minute.

This must be the first time that the annual major speech has been postponed in such a rush. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says it'll be worth the wait as she has forwarded a number of proposals to Beijing for assistance to help the SAR's economy recover from what's probably the most difficult time since the war.

In this light, the delay could be a sign of positivitive developments to come.

When was the last time Hong Kong pleaded with Beijing for urgent help?

It was during the time of the Tung Chee-hwa administration. As a result of the Asian financial crisis, the bursting of the dotcom bubble and the SARS epidemic, Hong Kong was caught in the eye of a then perfect storm and hemmorhaged fiscally.

Then, the bleeding was stopped and reversed with the launch of individual visit scheme that allowed mainlanders to travel on their own to Hong Kong and Macau. There was also the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement. Their collective impact on the SAR's economy is obvious by now.

It is very likely that Lam is now asking Beijing to consider allowing mainlanders to travel to the SAR in large numbers again. If the central government agrees, it would at least theoretically render immediate support to the retail sector.

Will Beijing agree to it?

Why not? Hasn't it been already widely reported that Beijing may permit more mainlanders to travel to Macau where its gaming industry and related businesses have grinded almost to a total halt due to de facto border closure because of the pandemic?

The only problem with that is people would have to be able to travel in such large numbers that the economies of both the SARS can recover. It is more likely than not that due to uncertainty over the coronavirus, the border would reopen to more people at a controlled pace in the beginning.

Needless to say, the postponement has heightened expectations for the postponed policy address.

While this would be logical economically, it would be most unlikely that Beijing would give Hong Kong greater political freedom. Oversight of schools - from syllabuses to teachers' conduct - will continue to be stringent. New civil service recruits will continue to be asked to pledge loyalty.

Naturally, it would be in the interests of everyone to know what the other proposals for assistance that Lam has put forward to Beijing are. Although she will be in Shenzhen tomorrow and may have a chance to see some central government officials even though she isn't expected to meet President Xi Jinping there, it would take a while to thrash out the exact details of the assistance to be bestowed.

Lam has expressed the hope that the measures can be announced in her policy address no later than the end of November.

If there is really positive news in the making, that would be worth the wait. Further to this is that by that time, the US presidential election dustup should have cleared and its longer-term policy toward China come into clearer view.

Let's keep our fingers crossed for better and calmer political weather after our latest bout with this latest perfect storm that we are facing.

 

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