China Conference: Hong Kong speakers reveal insights for a path forward

May 22, 2020
SCMP Updates

As Hong Kong observes signs of recovery after being hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and months of social unrest, speakers at the seventh edition of China Conference: Hong Kong –  hosted as a virtual conference by the SCMP for the first time – called for solidarity, urging the broader community to engage in meaningful dialogue to restore confidence, stability and growth.

Among the speakers were senior government officials, business leaders, university chiefs and entrepreneurs, presenting keynotes and panels during the two-day conference which was broadcast live to SCMP’s global audience online.

“As we have done for over a century, the SCMP has documented each meaningful and historic moment unfolding, combining the facts and analysis to elevate our understandings and thoughts. Thankfully, we’re now observing signs of recovery in Hong Kong, while the world is looking to us for encouragement and the roadmap back to normalcy,” said Gary Liu, CEO of the SCMP in his opening address.

Response to and preparedness for Covid-19

Even without a complete city lockdown, Hong Kong has managed to contain the outbreak satisfactorily by employing boundary control, quarantine and isolation, as well as social distancing, said Sophia Chan Siu-chee, Secretary for Food and Health, before the panel discussions. In addition to a raft of immigration control measures in place, maintaining social distancing is also a key tactic in delaying the spread of Covid-19 in the local community.


Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau Tang-wah prepares to discuss the current state of Hong Kong's economy.

Edward Yau Tang-wah, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, pointed out that the city’s economy had been hit by the triple whammy of the US-China trade war, social unrest and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus. He also warned that anti-government protests would hamper any economic recovery if they returned.

“Hong Kong people see the need for solidarity in the fight against Covid-19. I hope we can bring back this Hong Kong spirit,” he urged.

“Combating Covid-19 is going to be like running a marathon... Hong Kong has done a fantastic job in bringing down the number of cases, but I think it would be naive to imagine that we can get rid of all infections,” said Keiji Fukuda, director and clinical professor for the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong.

Yeoh Eng-kiong, professor of public health and director of the Centre for Health Systems and Policy Research within JC School of Public Health and Primary Care at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, suggested the formulation of a pandemic preparedness plan – one which takes into account different outbreak scenarios, including variations in severity of illness, mode of transmission and rates of infection in the community.

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, a Hong Kong executive council member and chairman of the council at The University of Hong Kong, said the government would continue to adopt a “suppression and lift” strategy to tighten and relax the control measures in a timely manner.

Retail landlords and tenants need to work together

With more store closures likely on the horizon, landlords and retailers are working together to address the challenging environment and survive recent hardships together as an industry.

In what was described as a perfect storm – combining the effects of social unrest, the coronavirus and China’s economic slowdown – Alain Li, regional chief executive for Asia Pacific at Richemont, a distributor of luxury brands, said the group had been impacted severely in the past 12 months.

[From left] Alain Li of Richemont; Samy Redjeb of Bluebell Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan; and Winnie Chiu of Dorsett Hospitality International prepare to discuss how the retail and tourism sectors can be revitalised in Hong Kong.

Samy Redjeb, managing director at Bluebell Hong Kong Macau & Taiwan, another distributor of luxury brands throughout Asia, said they have appreciated the government’s bailouts for employees, but added that salaries are only a small fraction of expenses. Rent, on the other hand, is a larger piece of the pie. While there have been some concessions from landlords in recent months, it has not been enough to ease concerns.


[From left] Donald Choi of Chinachem Group; Raymond Cheng of CGS-CIMB Securities; and Ada Wong of Champion REIT pose before an essential panel discussion about the state of the property sector in the city.

Donald Choi, executive director and CEO of Chinachem Group, said the group has been charging close to zero base rent for some tenants at its Tsim Sha Tsui shopping centres since March. He said that tenants selling duty-free products targeting mainly mainland tourists have been offered favourable terms to power through the city’s worst ever recorded economic recession.

Champion REIT CEO Ada Wong said it was paying for its small food and beverage (F&B) tenants to join food delivery platforms in effort to help expand their customer base.

Greater Bay Area: Can Hong Kong buy in?

During a panel discussion on whether Hong Kong can integrate into the Greater Bay Area (GBA) initiative, participants said they are optimistic that as long as barriers are lowered, businesses and citizens will notice the benefits of establishing a foothold in multiple locations across the region.


[Left to right] The SCMP’s William Zheng; Alicia García Herrero of Natixis; Prof. Witman Hung of the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority; and Michael Kwok of Arup pose before sitting down to discuss whether Hong Kong can buy into the GBA initiative.

Witman Hung, Hong Kong Deputy, 13th National People's Congress; Principal Liaison Officer for Hong Kong Shenzhen Qianhai Authority, said the PBoC has recently announced as many as 30 new measures to connect financial markets in the GBA and support Hong Kong by creating more risk management tools for offshore yuan, commodities markets, and cross-border private equity investments. “As long as the policies are there and once executable, Hong Kong will play a bigger role as an international financial centre in the future,” he said.

“Now that we have built more bridges, highways, railways and airports in the GBA for transportation of people and goods, we’ll have to think more about the soft infrastructure, like healthcare and education, in order to attract people to move to the GBA. For us, the GBA presents a new opportunity. It’s a major shift towards a regional focus,” said Michael Kwok, chair for the East Asia Region at Arup. Kowk added that the professional service sector has been relatively less affected by the pandemic.

Covid-19 impact on global trade and supply chains

In the post-Covid 19 era, the “new normal” is anything but normal. This is according to Tara Joseph, president at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. Prior to the pandemic, the US-China trade war, rising labour costs in China and social unrest in Hong Kong had already caused disruption. Manufacturers are now looking for alternative locations to diversify supply chains away from China.


[Left to right] SCMP News Editor Zhou Xin helms a panel with Tara Joseph of The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, Dr Daniel Yip of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and Chee Choong Ng of DHL Express Hong Kong and Macau. The panel discussed the latest developments in how Covid-19 is impacting global trade and supply chains.

“For us to be able to move forward, I think it’s important to establish a level playing field for all companies in China. If foreign businesses are worried about legal protection in China, Hong Kong remains a great place to do business,” she said.

Daniel Yip, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said that “China is actually working harder to level the playing field for foreign businesses. The Chinese government has strengthened IP protection by increasing penalties for counterfeiting. It has also relaxed rules on foreign ownership of financial service firms. These were unimaginable ten years ago and finally it’s being opened up now.”

Chee Choong Ng, senior vice president and managing director at DHL Express Hong Kong and Macau, said the shift in global supply chains is evolutionary, rather than a revolution. Companies now embrace the “China plus one” strategy as part of their business continuity planning (BCP). The signing of free trade agreements (FTAs) with Singapore and other ASEAN countries is an indication that Hong Kong has a “plan-B” to mitigate the impact of US-China trade conflicts.

Yes. Hong Kong can still attract top talent

Despite months of social unrest and the Covid-19 outbreak, Hong Kong still has the competency to play its role as an international city and ability to continue attracting international talent, said Cindy Chow, executive director of the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund.

“Hong Kong is still very attractive to global talent despite all the challenges we’ve been through. Some start-ups actually do better and even benefit from the pandemic… I think there are still opportunities, but we all need to change and adapt to the new normal,” Chow said. She also called on well-established companies to be more open-minded in working with start-ups and to explore new technologies and business models.

“Promoting collaboration and building partnerships between well-established companies and start-ups is one of our missions at Cyberport. We aim to integrate new and traditional economies by accelerating digital adoption in the public and private sectors,” said Peter Yan, CEO of Cyberport.

Getting universities and society back on track

To get Hong Kong’s universities back on track, a crucial question which needs answering is how trust can be restored – whether it's between students and university management or between students and any figure that holds a level of authority.

According to Rocky Tuan, vice-chancellor and president of The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Roland Chin, president and vice-chancellor of Hong Kong Baptist University, local universities have launched campaigns to reaffirm their commitment to the fundamental values of openness, tolerance and solidarity while restoring campus facilities.

Prof. Chin said the pandemic and the US-China trade war had forced the higher education sector to rethink its digital and internationalisation strategy. “China is withdrawing from a lot of joint programmes with the West … should we focus more on the Asean countries, the African continent or South America? We need to do this post-pandemic rethinking,” he said.

“We have to promote a culture that respects openness, trust and inclusiveness…We are starting with small things. These values can’t be lectured. We are born different from one another – why not focus on our similarities and overcome challenges together?” Tuan remarked.


The South China Morning Post is a leading global news company that has reported on China and Asia for more than a century. Founded in 1903, SCMP is headquartered in Hong Kong, where it is the city’s newspaper of record, with a growing correspondent staff across Asia and the United States. SCMP's vision is to “Elevate Thought” and our mission is to “Lead the global conversation about China”. Additionally, SCMP publishes a portfolio of premium lifestyle and fashion titles in Hong Kong including Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Esquire and, Harper’s BAZAAR. SCMP is also home to Abacus, a digital news brand focused on China's tech industry; Inkstone, a daily news brief for those curious about China's growing impact around the world; and Goldthread, a content platform with a focus on food, travel and culture in China. In 2020, SCMP became the first news organisation in Asia to join the Trust Project, a consortium of top news companies developing global transparency standards for credible journalism.