The uncertainty created by more than a year of trade tensions between the United States and Mainland China continues to affect Hong Kong businesses. Meanwhile, the recent social unrest and violence have dragged down the city’s economy even further, keeping tourists away and taking a heavy toll on local consumption demand.
When it rains, it pours. The passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 by the U.S. has added to the already tense situation. The signing of the act by President Donald Trump in November will only damage the long-standing relationship between Hong Kong and the U.S. We must recognize the fact that Hong Kong’s unique status is not granted unilaterally by any other country, but is conferred by the Basic Law. Our economic and trade status is on par with other World Trade Organization members, and we continue to make use of this capacity in the international economic and trade arena to establish mutually beneficial relationships with various trading partners around the world.
With Hong Kong in troubled waters, the Government needs to introduce a range of down-to-earth measures to help restore confidence. At the same time, the business community must work together to rise to the challenges.
I previously put forward a number of recommendations to the Government. These included extending the electricity subsidy scheme to cover businesses and allowing residents to pay tax by instalments, which will hopefully alleviate the burden on the public and SMEs. I am pleased to see that the Government has adopted some of my proposals and rolled out a fourth round of relief measures to tide SMEs over amid the internal and external threats.
These measures should be helpful in the short term. For the longer term, I have repeatedly reflected to secretaries and directors of bureaus and departments that the Government should further reform the provisional tax system, and introduce subsidies for shop maintenance, water charges and wages to compensate SMEs for the losses they suffered as a result of the recent unrest. The Special Loan Guarantee Scheme should also be relaunched to meet the urgent needs of affected businesses and to ease any cash-flow problems.
Hong Kong is a pluralistic and free society. Everyone can express their views and opinions freely, whether on the streets or in the Legislative Council. However, the recent turmoil shows that we can no longer take Hong Kong’s economic stability for granted. At critical times, we must work with pragmatism to secure our continuing prosperity. In the meantime, the business sector will continue to pull together, share our expertise, and make recommendations to the Government that will help create a better Hong Kong for all citizens.