Will Lam's policy address make any difference?

October 16, 2019 16:56
People pass by a giant TV screen showing Carrie Lam delivering a speech on Wednesday. The Hong Kong leader unveiled housing and livelihood- related measures in her policy address, but the moves are unlikely to end the unrest in the city. Photo: Reuters

Does anyone really care about what Carrie Lam said in her policy address today?

The embattled Hong Kong leader, who was forced to deliver her speech via video after being shouted down in the Legco by opposition lawmakers, has not addressed any of the core demands of the public, further pushing back any chances of a resolution to the territory's months-long crisis. 

Lam announced a raft of property measures, vowing to boost land supply as well making it easier for people to buy their own homes through relaxed mortgage rules, acknowledging that the housing issue is among the root causes of the unrest in the city.

The initiatives are welcome, but the chief executive would be mistaken if she thinks they would serve as a magic bullet and help restore faith and confidence in her administration.

Having unleashed "unforgivable havoc" -- as Lam herself admitted, as per a leaked conversation early last month -- on the city with her extradition bill misadventure, there are now serious worries as to what lies ahead for Hong Kong amid increasingly violent anti-government protests. 

With passions running high among the youth due to perceived police brutality and other grievances, we could see further chaos on the streets and transport disruptions in the weeks to come. 

If the situation deteriorates, we could see a new wave where talents and capital will flee the city. There are already some worrisome signs. 

Immigration to other countries has been the No.1 social topic for months, and a study has pointed to a significant jump in the proportion of Hongkongers looking to emigrate.

According to the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, 42 percent of respondents in a recent survey said they would be interested in relocating to places such as Canada, Australia and Taiwan, up from 34 percent when a similar survey was done in December 2018.

While many of those plans may remain just thoughts and not really pushed ahead, there is however one activity that seems to be gaining momentum for real -- moving money out of Hong Kong.

The desire to move assets overseas has taken root especially due to fears that authorities may unveil more emergency laws after putting in place a controversial face-mask ban.

A media report has noted that banking giant HSBC has been handling several dozen requests daily from customers seeking to open accounts overseas. Hong Kong's largest bank is said to have allocated extra staff to clear the backlog on such cases.

Some mainland money that had been parked in Hong Kong, meanwhile, is being shifted into other financial centers such as Singapore.

Hong Kong money is being tapped by different overseas property markets, most notably Malaysia, which is offering incentives for new homebuyers from abroad.

Two of my friends recently went to Europe to kick off their immigration plans – one in Portugal and the other in Bulgaria.

The individuals are not particularly fond of those two countries – I doubt if they know much about the places other than what they might have gathered through watching YouTube videos -- but it doesn't really matter as the only intention is to secure residency rights.

What I gathered was that both countries would give out visas to those who could afford a HK$5 million property and only required a minimum stay of two weeks per year before applying for citizenship.

When they get it after three or four years, they will be able to stay in any country in the European Union, an alluring option given the doubts surrounding the future of Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems”, especially post-2047.

In the quest for overseas residency rights, some Hongkongers, I would say, are making risky investments abroad, without due diligence or careful planning.

Still, one can understand the rush as people are beginning to have real fears about their home town.

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EJ Insight writer