Thank you for your letter to the Chamber, in which you share the hardships and struggles that you have had to endure to keep your business alive over the past two years. I also share your sorrows about the current situation in Hong Kong.
Many businesses in Hong Kong, especially micro-enterprises like yours, have toiled for most of their lives to make a go of their business. Their efforts not only provided for their livelihoods, but also fed their families and those of their staff who followed them along this journey. Although not every tiny shop tucked beneath the stairs can become a prominent corporation, it nonetheless serves the neighborhood and contributes to society. Due to your efforts, and the hundreds of thousands of small- and medium-sized enterprises who have also toiled for decades, Hong Kong has developed into a thriving cosmopolitan city. I would like to pay tribute to all the businesses who have been working quietly behind the scenes for decades to contribute to Hong Kong’s success.
I was sorry to read about your suffering during the violent protests last year. Not only did the violence cause a sharp drop in business, the repeated vandalism caused serious damage to your shop and forced you to dig deep into your savings to repair the damage. The fond memories that generations of citizens had of Hong Kong being a safe and law-abiding society for over half a century were shattered by the riots. Scenes of running battles between the protesters and the police seemed surreal. No matter how unacceptable we felt the violence was, we were helpless to do anything. Although you shrugged off your losses, the reality and pain felt very real when you looked at your empty cash register. It was truly heartbreaking to hear about your suffering.
It never rains, but it pours. The subsequent outbreak of the coronavirus has devastated many businesses. You mentioned how the Government’s restrictions on social gatherings had completely frozen your business, and that the little capital you had on hand had almost been entirely used up during the protests. No one really knows if we can survive the cold winter battling the pandemic. As you think about the career that you have built during your lifetime, obviously you don’t want it to end like this and just give up. What’s more, the thought of laying off your employees who have worked with you for years is unbearable.
When you looked back to the previous SARS outbreak, it lasted only a few months, and gave you hope that using your remaining savings, refinancing your own property and raising funds to cover the rent and salaries, doing everything you can to help the business survive would be worth it. Yet, no one could have predicted that the pandemic would last so long, or that it would be more than half a year before the Government would ease its restrictions on businesses.
You wrote to express your gratitude to various chambers for reflecting to the Government the acute difficulties companies were enduring. The emergency assistance that we lobbied for did help businesses survive for a little longer. However, as shown in the Chamber’s survey, the most useful relief measure would be for the Government to control the epidemic to allow business to resume. For many small businesses that have been forced to “close” for a long time, you agree with them that the financial aid is only a drop in the bucket. I understand you are worried that all the hard-earned money you have saved in your lifetime will soon be gone. Moreover, not only your career will come to an end, but also the livelihoods of your employees. For this I just can’t help feeling sad. My heart went out to you after reading this. When I thought about the many businesses who must also be in the same situation as you, my heart just sank.
However, the day will come when the epidemic has passed and the economy begins to recover. So please hang in there! Just like the unprecedented bushfires in Australia this year, even though millions of large and small animals were almost wiped out, green shoots have now begun to emerge from the scorched earth. I have every confidence companies that survive this disaster will do the same. Even if some merchants cannot avoid bankruptcy, Hong Kong will always remember their contributions to society for many years to come.
Yet, it is extremely lamentable that struggling businesses who hope to survive the pandemic worry that they will later need to again face social disruption. Today, the legendary “Lion Rock Spirit” of consensus building seems to be but a distant memory of in the minds of Hong Kong people. It is true that society is torn, and that setting aside differences to focus on common goals like previous generations once did is no longer practical.
As a result, businesses, both large and small, are at a loss as how to cope with constant internal and external political disputes. Moreover, they are often the target of blame. Little wonder that in our survey earlier this year, members ranked a stable business environment as most important factor to help them. It seems that in the eyes of enterprises, Hong Kong is no longer the paradise for doing businesses that it once was.
Sadness, although the waves of challenges battering your business may at times seem unrelenting, I hope you can face them calmly. Where there is a beginning, there is also an end. Businesses, too, also go through the cycle of life. As businesspeople, we must have the courage to face whatever storm comes our way. Just as importantly, we also need to be mentally prepared to let go of success or failure.
I would like to send my blessings to you and hope that we can tell more stories from the countless companies like yours. This will help society understand the helplessly difficult situation that companies, who support the daily lives of people, are facing amid the current crisis.
Although we now seem to be living in a tumultuous world, it has never been quiet for long. Over the past century, Hong Kong has gone through major ups and downs, and the hard work and suffering endured by several generations laid the city’s foundations that made us the economic powerhouse that we are today.
The future of Hong Kong belongs to the young people of today, and the big and small companies of today are all paving the way for their future. I hope that everyone can put aside their differences and find mutual understanding to safeguard the sacrifices that our predecessors made. A century later, when people look back at events of today, even though times and circumstances will have changed, the things that we aspire to and also the fears and regrets will remain the same.
Take care, my Hong Kong.
The above article aired in Chinese on RTHK “Letters to Hong Kong” programme on 19 September. The Chamber has received a number of letters from SMEs lamenting the extreme difficulties and worries that they are facing.