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John Lee Keen to Draw Overseas Talent Back to Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s new leader says he has prioritised improving the city’s competitiveness and attracting highly skilled workers after the departure of 200,000 expatriates and locals in recent years.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee delivers his first annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee delivers his first annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, October 19, 2022. Photo: Tyrone Siu, Reuters.


Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee says he has prioritised improving the city’s competitiveness and attracting more overseas talent.

Lee, who made his first policy address on Wednesday, also emphasized the need to bolster national security in the Chinese ruled city.

While some Western governments including the United States have said the erosion of rights and freedoms has hurt Hong Kong’s business climate and exacerbated a “brain drain”, Lee pledged to tighten control.

He referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s directives for the city in a speech at the start of a major party congress in Beijing last Sunday.

“We will further strengthen the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security,” said Lee. The proposed new laws would regulate areas including cybersecurity, crowdfunding activities and false information, he added.

Lee, who took up his job in July and was sanctioned by the United States in 2020 for his role in the crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms, did not give a timeframe for this.

Possessing limited financial experience, Lee faces multiple challenges restoring Hong Kong’s fortunes as a financial hub after several years of upheaval that resulted in it losing ground to regional rivals like Singapore.

Over 200,000 foreigners and Hong Kongers, including young people who had been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests, left the city in the past two years, having been unsettled by China exerting more control over political freedoms and a heavy-handed approach to fighting the spread of Covid-19.

The city also lost its position as a global aviation hub due to China’s contentious zero-Covid policy, the head of airlines group IATA said last month.


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Trawl for Talent

Lee said two-year visas would be made available to individuals earning salaries of HK$2.5 million ($318,475) or more during the past year, and graduates from the world’s top 100 universities with at least three years of work experience.

“Apart from actively nurturing and retaining local talents, the government will proactively trawl the world for talents,” Lee said in his speech to local lawmakers.

Overseas talent choosing to become permanent residents in Hong Kong would also be given stamp duty refunds for a first residential property purchase.

Lee said HK$30 billion ($3.82 billion) would go into a “Co-Investment Fund” to attract enterprises to set up operations.


72,000 Homes Promised

On housing, long a thorny issue for Hong Kong leaders in one of the world’s most expensive property markets, Lee pledged to provide enough land for the provision of not less than 72,000 residential units in the next five years.

“We will enhance quantity, speed, efficiency, and quality in land production, staying on top of things and putting in place a long-term plan to steadily increase supply,” he said.

Despite an estimated 10% fall in prices this year, Lee stopped short of announcing any bold moves, such as easing property cooling measures implemented over the past decade.

The Hang Seng Property Index rose as much as 2.8% before the speech, but pared back those gains to 0.4% by midday.


  • Reuters with addtional editing by Jim Pollard





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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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