27 October 2016
Hong Kong is still doing well in numerous global rankings and its appeal to talent and capital remains strong amid global economic headwinds. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong is still doing well in numerous global rankings and its appeal to talent and capital remains strong amid global economic headwinds. Photo: Bloomberg

More mainlandized? HK is also more internationalized than ever

The word “mainlandization” has appeared more often than ever in Hong Kong media over the past few years, and all for the wrong reasons.

When many fear that the city is being consigned into the obscurity of becoming just another mainland city, they laugh at government efforts to portray it as “Asia’s World City”.

But is this really the case?

More Westerners

Not a few local elites are laying their eyes on overseas destinations amid the city’s seemingly insoluble political schism, prompting observers to announce a new wave of exits by Hong Kong’s crème de la crème, yet meanwhile, many are still flocking to the city, and they are not just mainlanders.

The number of residents from Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries in Hong Kong has exceeded 71,500, according to the 2011 population census.

The past five years have seen stagnant growth in many other parts of the developed world and this has enhanced the allure of the city in terms of what it can offer for remuneration and career advancement.

As many Western economies grapple with rising unemployment, the number of Western expats here keeps growing. In the ’80s and ’90s, a derogatory term for Britons was FILTH, which stands for “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong”.

A friend from Edinburgh told me it’s not that easy to find a job in London that can pay your rent, “but in Hong Kong, if you visit job search sites like jobsDB every 30 minutes or so, there will be new jobs, and, native English speakers are sought after and better paid.”

There are no less than 40,000 Britons and 60,000 to 70,000 Americans living in Hong Kong, according to various estimates.

One telling sign is that the queue at the consular section of the US Consulate-General in the city can sometimes be longer than the one for visa applications.

The nationality group in the city that has witnessed the fastest increase in population is perhaps the French.

Alliance Française de Hong Kong notes that the number of French nationals in Hong Kong has grown more than 8 percent a year on average since the new millennium to over 20,000 last year, and the city now boasts one of the largest French communities in the Asia-Pacific.

Despite the impact of slackening global growth, Hong Kong’s seasonally adjusted underemployment rate stayed at 3.4 percent in the March to May quarter.

The local labor market remained stable in overall terms as total employment still increased mildly over a year earlier, apparently better off than other economies.

Hong Kong’s economy is still doing well.

Thus, unsurprisingly, on top of renewals, the Immigration Department issues 30,000-40,000 new visas annually to foreign professionals and entrepreneurs from all over the globe other than those from the mainland.

More foreign firms

Along with the inflow of westerners is the surge in the number of overseas companies in Hong Kong: there are 7,904 such entities – 1,401 regional headquarters (RHQs), 2,397 regional offices and 4,106 local offices, employing 420,000 in 2015, according to an annual survey by the Census and Statistics Department.

The US has the largest number of RHQs in the city (307 companies), followed by Japan (238) and the mainland (133).

Another proof of Hong Kong’s stature in the region is that 1,137 RHQs in the city are also responsible for the business operations in China.

Those with Singapore under their geographical responsibility stand at 447, followed by Taiwan (413 companies), South Korea (314), and Japan (310).

One enduring appeal of Hong Kong that lures overseas entities to come and stay is its simple and low tax regime.

Other virtues include free flow of information, a corruption-free government, rule of law, an independent judiciary, and English as the lingua franca in business and legal circles.

These are Hong Kong’s strengths that not so many of our contenders are able to catch up with easily.

Global rankings

Hong Kong proudly sits in the fifth spot on the A.T. Kearney 2014 Global Cities Index, only after New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, and ahead of Los Angeles, Chicago and Beijing. Singapore is in the ninth place while Shanghai is 18th.

Last year our city was the world’s No. 3, only after London and New York, in the 40 most important cities for UHNWIs, high-net-worth individuals with over US$25 million of investable assets, according to Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank.

This year, Hong Kong has toppled the US as the world’s most competitive economy in the latest ranking by the IMD World Competitiveness Center.

Another advantage of Hong Kong is its far-reaching aviation network. Hong Kong airport is served by over 100 airlines with services to around 160 destinations worldwide. Singapore’s Changi serves 130 destinations.

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EJ Insight writer

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