Relief measures alone won't cut it

October 24, 2019 18:06
Hong Kong authorities will be mistaken if they think they can bring the unrest to an end with mere economic relief measures and financial sweeteners, observers say. Photo: Bloomberg

On Tuesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, standing alongside Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah and Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan, announced a new round of relief measures for businesses that have been hit hard by the months-long social unrest in the city.

Predominantly targeting the transport and retail industries, the relief measures can help steer the economy through the difficult environment.

But if authorities hope that the financial sweeteners will make people forget about the various social and political issues that have come to the fore post the anti-extradition bill saga, let us offer this quick reminder: political issues can never be resolved by economic means.

For proof, one just has to look at the poor response that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has received for her Oct. 16 Policy Address.

In the policy speech, Lam put a lot of emphasis on land and housing and substantially relaxed the mortgage rules to help first-time homebuyers, among other initiatives.

Despite that, a survey from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute has shown that 73 percent of the respondents were dissatisfied with the Lam address.

The fact that over 70 percent of the citizens are not satisfied with the Policy Address, even with all its housing-related steps, it tells us that people's aspirations extend beyond the economic sphere.  

The underlying message is this: Lam has failed to get to the root of the deep-rooted social grievances and address the public concerns.

To put it more vividly, Hong Kong, in its current condition, can be described as being akin to a person having suffered a serious head wound and covered in blood. Livelihood measures such as the relaxation of mortgage rules are nothing more than just painkillers that can only relieve the pain a bit, but can hardly stop the bleeding.

True, devising relief measures is better than doing nothing. But the stark truth is that if we are to find a way out of the current crisis, Lam needs to demonstrate vision, broad-mindedness and statesmanship and take truly bold decisions. Nothing less will do. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal