The Bauhinia Foundation, says its boss Anthony Wu in today’s South China Morning Post, is doing a study on population policy. Chief Executive Donald Tsang hopes Hong Kong will have 10 million people, Wu says; where will the extra three million come from and in particular how do we lure more professionals to the city?
The BF is a quasi-think-tank with two main roles. The first is to help Donald out by floating or proposing policies he likes. The second is to serve a sort of soft United Front role aimed at the ultra-noncommunist part of Hong Kong society – the Western-born or Western-educated business and professional class of folk who can’t even hum the opening bars of the national anthem but can be flattered into joining the embrace of the establishment (rather than stir up trouble about rents, air pollution or the harbour).
Most of us probably thought the 10-million population thing had come and gone. It was a flippant remark Sir Bow-Tie made three years ago (18 June), reflecting his simplistic, 1970s view of progress: bigger roads, bigger buildings, bigger bridges, bigger everything. (In the original Financial Times interview, he recalled with misty-eyed nostalgia his time as a District Officer when, after much mountain-removal, reclamation and construction, the government started to move hundreds of thousands of residents into the new city of Shatin.) The main response from the public in 2007 was: where do we put the extra people?
The BF’s study will also, it seems, re-visit another of Donald’s ill-advised fantasies that we had pretty much forgotten about: the need for Hongkongers to have more babies. There are probably a lot of reasons why, by that time in 2005, the city’s birth rate had shriveled to below 1.0 per woman (where it pretty much remains; 2.1 keeps the population level). Two obvious reasons – average family home size of around 450 square feet, and a public schools system that no-one with any money would let their kids near – were purely down to government policy. And still are.
If the Big Lychee’s administration wants to attract more (and more professional) people and encourage breeding, they could ponder a quick four-word suggestion: give us more space. Or – if you want to maintain a system where roads take up more land area than housing and the middle class has to give 10 years’ salary to Li Ka-shing for a shoebox to live in – just shut up. You can’t have it both ways.
Why has Wu’s Bowtie Front decided to take another look at social engineering? It could be because of Singapore. Our rival, and often rather pitiful, city-state is forecasting that its GDP this year will surpass that of the whole of Malaysia. Its population has also been growing fast. Many of us probably think of it as a place with around half of Hong Kong’s 7 million, or maybe a bit more, but it has now reached 5 million.
So what? Nothing to freak out into European-style existential alarmism over, surely. Yet it is a concern when you look at it, as Market Watch does, in the context of a government that has…
“gone back to what it knows best – trading parcels of land for easy revenue … some of the highest commercial and residential property prices in the world … a Gini coefficient of 53 … exploitative sales practices in the property market … [and which could use] some new ideas so its population and economy can grow – and not just the cash piles of government and vested interests of the few.”
The causes are all around us. Meanwhile, the Bauhinia Foundation will be hard at work researching how to change the symptoms.