30 years in Hong Kong
15 July 2021
30 years ago today, as a young banker, I moved to Hong Kong - one of my better decisions. Here I made my home, my fortune and my family, and hopefully gave something back to make HK a better place than it would have been - we each do what we can, and that's what makes a cosmopolitan city.
Sadly, I doubt that I would make the same decision if I were 25 today. HK may have better days ahead, but for now, increasing government economic intervention, a rollback of political rights and the red iron fist of authoritarianism are sucking the dynamism out of the city and making it a far less welcoming place, not just for international immigrants to HK, but for our brightest local minds planning their future and deciding whether it lies in HK.
Many of my predictions in "The most likely outcome for HK" (3-Sep-2019) have come to pass, thankfully without material bloodshed. The civil service, legislature and district councils have been, or are being, cleansed of pandemocrats in a kind of inverse McCarthyism. Pro-democracy media have either been shut or are self-censoring. In schools, the Liberal Studies curriculum has been replaced with "Citizenship and Social Development", and teachers are being watched more closely. In universities, Student Unions are being derecognised. The public broadcaster RTHK has been reined in (although I still appear on its air, while I can).
There's nothing we can do about the politics and authoritarianism until China itself is ready for change, but within the new framework, HK can move back towards free-market policies and away from central planning if its policy-makers so choose. There's no reason why an authoritarian Government can't overcome entrenched monopolies and remove legislative barriers to competition, for example. Indeed, with a compliant legislature it should be easier in some respects. Trying to nudge them in that direction is where I will focus my remaining quota of "public interest" time, health permitting.
On that subject, I won't be providing regular updates, but 13 months in, I've bought myself some time with life-extending drugs, managing the cancer to maintain a decent quality of life, punctuated every 4 weeks by a drug "depot" injection (jelly in my belly) and a couple of days of discomfort, watching more Netflix than I should. And pills, lots of expensive pills, which I am fortunate to afford. This combined androgen deprivation therapy, also known as chemical castration, deprives hormone-sensitive prostatic cancer cells of testosterone until they mutate to become "castration-resistant", hopefully not for another few years.
The therapy strains to convert men into boys, reversing puberty with interesting but minor side-effects. I am ever more youthful, the Benjamin Button of corporate governance. When the treatment fails, other weapons can be deployed, some of which are still in development. The longer I survive, the better the available treatments will be, so it's a race to stay ahead of the disease. Every month in which my PSA chart (and other key readings) remain flat and don't look like a stock bubble is a bonus.
Coming soon: the China Bubble
Speaking of bubbles, today is another beautiful but scorching day in HK - the air is clear, as is more often the case now, and we must give the Government some credit for curbing emissions - better late than never. Sadly, no visitors are allowed (even if vaccinated), and we are all trapped in the COVID-free SAR bubble, although the continuing emergency regulations would imply that COVID lurks around every corner - even if you're a vaccinated person lying on a beach, you risk a fine without a masked tan line.
Anyone who leaves the country must do hotel quarantine on return, even if they are fully vaccinated. HK residents cannot return from certain "A1" countries, including the UK, resulting in bizarre schemes like the "wash-out fare" now being advertised by Cathay Pacific which requires you to spend 4-6 weeks getting home and released from quarantine. It might be easier to charter a cruise ship and sail from Southampton. Many HK residents we know have simply given up trying to return this summer and are instead enjoying the parts of the world where COVID rules are being scrapped or relaxed, replaced with sensible guidance. That must account for at least part of the net outflow in our passenger data, along with the fairly obvious brain drain.
The HK and mainland Governments are inching towards opening the "boundary" with the mainland and Macao, at which point HK will become part of a one-Country "China bubble", isolated from the rest of the World until mainland authorities are ready to open up. We would guess 1-Oct-2021 (National Day) for the China Bubble to open, and 1-Jul-2022 for international visitors to China (including HK & Macao). We expect that the Beijing Winter Olympics, scheduled to start on 4-Feb-2022, will either be postponed or for teams-only, arriving into a strictly-quarantined bubble.
Catch me tomorrow morning on RTHK's Backchat for more on this subject.
David M Webb
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