Published: 20:49, September 28, 2022 | Updated: 21:21, September 28, 2022
'ASEAN provides huge market opportunity for HK businesses'
By Eugene Chan

Starry Lee Wai-king, Chair of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, speaks to China Daily during an interview on July 10, 2020. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

HONG KONG – Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of HK party Chair, Starry Lee Wai-king is on the show this week.

DAB sent 16 party members to five ASEAN countries in early September to promote Hong Kong and clarify any misunderstandings foreigners may have about the city. Starry Lee says they have met with dozens of local chambers of commerce to explain Hong Kong's strengths in financial arena. She says the ASEAN countries provide a huge market opportunity for the SAR’s businesses. She recommends the SAR government to take initiatives to attract the business sectors from the ASEAN countries to come to Hong Kong.

She believes the latest relaxation of quarantine measures also makes it easier for overseas companies to come to Hong Kong.

Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr Eugene Chan’s interview with Starry Lee.

Chan: Welcome to Straight Talk with Eugene Chan. We are delighted to have Ms Starry Lee, the Chair of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, in short, DAB, here this evening to talk about whether a good Hong Kong story can help reignite Hong Kong as Asia's world city. Ms Lee is an accountant by profession, and a Legislative Councilor for the Kowloon Central geographic constituency. Of note, she was the youngest elected district councilor at the time, and is also the only person to hold positions in three different levels of representative councils, namely, the Executive, Legislative and District councils. Welcome, Starry.

Lee: Hello, Eugene.

Chan: Right. So, Starry, much has been talked about the need to tell a good Hong Kong story. Even more importantly, a good China story. I think one of the main reasons is that we have a lot of Western rhetoric about very...I mean, all the wrong stories of Hong Kong and the mainland. You've been in politics for all these years, when you lobby for votes, do you find difficulty with all this negative sentiment to get people to support you, especially if you're kind of classified as a pro-government politician?

Lee: Well, as far as I'm concerned, I think, you know, when we visited the ASEAN countries to tell the right Hong Kong story, right China story ... Well, you know, people are most concerned with the quarantine measures imposed by the Hong Kong government. You know, with our sharing, they now understand that it has now been lifted. We are grateful for John Lee's timely move to lift the hotel quarantine arrangement. We believe that, you know, people from ASEAN countries will come shortly to visit Hong Kong to invest, to study and to work.

Chan: Right. I think people really want to know, with all that has happened in the world in the last few years, a lot of negative stories on Hong Kong. And I mean, I've got friends and relatives from overseas calling us and showing their concerns. Do you find that difficult, especially as I said earlier, when you are sort of classified as more pro-government, that the voters in Hong Kong, they are not as supporting to you as before? Do you feel that at all, even in Hong Kong?

Lee: Well, I don't think so. I mean, you know, we go out to ASEAN countries to tell the right Hong Kong story with figures and examples. We share with them what developments and achievements that have been in Hong Kong over the past 25 years under “One country, two systems” with figures and examples. You know, most of the people who, you know, talk to us, share with us, respond positively. You know, they have full confidence in Hong Kong, especially after the opening up of the Hong Kong quarantine policy.

Chan: Going back to the story that I just mentioned. Why do we need to tell the right Hong Kong story? Why do we have to provide figures and facts to those people? Have they been questioning Hong Kong?

Lee: Well, I think you know, as far as I'm concerned, I don't think there have been any misunderstandings if there ought to be any with our good Hong Kong story. I think they better understand Hong Kong's later development with facts and figures.

Chan: The reason why I say that is sometimes I mean, about Xinjiang for example, about the Hong Kong National Security Law, people say that Hong Kong no more has press freedom, Hong Kong people can be taken in without any reason. All these stories have been floating around. You're sure that they're not being … I mean, I'm sure they heard it. I mean, do you think they're concerned at all?

Lee: Well, I think most of the people we met, they…some of them asked the question about the quarantine arrangement. Some have asked about the future of 'one country, two systems' because Hong Kong has already reached its 25th anniversary. We share with them the speech delivered by President Xi (Jinping). You know, we emphasize that you know, 'one country, two systems' is a good system that is welcomed by our nation, Hong Kong people and international society. And, you know, President Xi does emphasize that the system should continue, and, without any reason to change it, we pass on this message and people have now been clarified about these misunderstandings, if there's any. Well, based on the experience that we have, I really don’t think many have the misunderstanding. But if there is any, then, after our good story, they should have been, you know, clarified about a lot.

Chan: Which is a good thing to know. I mean, you have mentioned a few times in this show that about the ASEAN countries, I think I'm sure you must be referring to the three delegations that you led to visit the five ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

Lee: Yeah. 

Chan: So, when you go and talk to them, I mean, why do you choose ASEAN countries? Because in the past, for Hong Kong delegations, we usually go to the western countries like the UK or even the US. Why did you choose the ASEAN countries? Is it because of the recent geopolitical tension between our homeland and the West?

Lee: Well, as mentioned to you, in the contemporary global power competition, being an inseparable part of China, Hong Kong has a significant role and tasks of enhancing the national relationship with ASEAN countries. DAB, therefore, taking its unique times and space, its 30th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, we march our steps to the ASEAN countries and tell the right Hong Kong story. Share with them the development and achievement that took place in Hong Kong over the past 25 years under 'one country, two systems'.

Chan: Was this your party's initiative? Or was it the government's idea that you got? I mean, definitely, there are no government officials with your trips or legislators? What I mean, who sent you? In other words, was it from your own party?

Lee: Oh, yes, of course, we decided to take this unique time and space, that is our 30th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, and there is need to tell the right Hong Kong story with the figures and examples and apart from that we stepped forward to take the opportunity. The opportunity that is available to them, you know, for doing the mutual business and also interaction among us. 

Chan: So, the purpose is really what you feel is the right thing to do? 

Lee: Oh, yes. 

Chan: And you should go and build up these relationships. So, the purpose is quite clear. So, now, would you say that your purpose has been achieved?

Lee: Oh, yeah, the result of the tour is really constructive. First of all, our tour is widely reported in both local and foreign media. Secondly, we have built up a closer relationship with over 50 local chambers of commerce, alliances and different organizations in ASEAN countries. We have met over 500 leaders and representatives. We have explained to them the latest development of Hong Kong, shared with them the opportunity they have to invest and come to Hong Kong. We will further build up that relationship to do some follow up work.

Chan: I mean, you have come back now for a few weeks? Can you share with the viewers? Are there any tangible outcomes as yet? I mean, you've mentioned that it was very encouraging that people wanted to come to Hong Kong and anything that you can share that is in line?

Lee: Oh, yes. They respond positively to our visit. Some of them are actually planning to visit Hong Kong in return. I believe they are coming soon. I know that one chamber in Singapore has decided to visit Hong Kong in return. That is the first thing. The second thing is: we are invited by the larger Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia to attend one of the very important conferences, which is B20. The conference will be held before the G20. We are planning to invite the business sector in Hong Kong to attend the B20 conference. Also, we are lining up some zoom conferences relating to IT sectors, financial markets, professional services and, maybe, the University of Hong Kong to the business sector of ASEAN countries. We plan to invite representatives from the Hong Kong government and the business sector, so that we can further link them together.

Chan: Right, it's very encouraging. 

Lee: Yeah, yeah. 

Chan: So, Chair, I'm... as you had watched our shows, our viewers will tell you that we always use Singapore as sort of a good friend. But we use that as an example because a lot of our businesses and people are now thinking of setting up businesses further in Singapore. So, when you are there, and I mean all ASEAN countries, I mean, is it more likely for them to want to work with Singapore compared to Hong Kong, and what advantages do you see Hong Kong has over Singapore in that matter?

Lee: Well, there is no doubt that Hong Kong and Singapore are competing with each other in some areas. I believe the competition is constructive. But we have to admit that Hong Kong and Singapore are competing in some areas, but also we are cooperating with each other in certain other areas. ASEAN is, you know, such a region with 10 Asian countries, with a total population of approximately 660 million. Huge potential, like the place I visit in Indonesia. It is undergoing its industrialization and digitization together, full of opportunities. I believe this region can accommodate both Hong Kong and Singapore. The whole region can develop and work together.

Chan: Right, Starry, we have to take a break now but, viewers, stay with us. We'll be right back. 

Chan: Welcome back. With us tonight is DAB Chair Ms Starry Lee. And we have been talking about whether a good Hong Kong story can help to reignite us as Asia's world city. So, Chair, in the first half you talked about your ASEAN trip, and the points you made people are interested to come, and that you have also been able to establish some connections with, hopefully, with the business sector, as well as the government. So, your purpose of the trip has been met, with congratulations. 

Lee: Thank you.

Chan: So, let's talk about Hong Kong now since you are here. Yesterday was the first day that we had the new quarantine measures. It used to be ‘3+4’, now it becomes ‘0+3’. So, for the viewers’ benefit, ‘0+3’ meaning no more days for hotel quarantine for overseas travelers, but still have to undergo 3 days for medical surveillance. Do you think this is a good thing for Hong Kong?

Lee: Well, we are grateful for CE’s timely move to lift the hotel quarantine, which appeared to be really and very constructive. Like we passed on this measure to most of our friends, like our friends in Indonesia and Singapore. They responded very positively, and some of them are planning to visit Hong Kong in return. This is part of the result of our trip. And they are actually looking forward for visiting Hong Kong in return, after the inbound restriction lifting. 

Chan: So, really a timely…?

Lee: Really a timely and constructive move.

Chan: But is Hong Kong still attractive to tourists? I am sure you are going to say yes, but when you think about it, I mean, Hong Kong is a paradise for good cuisine. But for the 3 days, they can’t go out to all those places because they haven’t turned the color…the right color yet. But still have to wear masks outdoors. So, is this still attractive? Will people still come?

Lee: Well, Hong Kong, we have our attractiveness to most of the ASEAN countries, and also people from different parts of the world. But of course, due to the previous inbound quarantine restrictions, there are hesitation for people to come to Hong Kong. We have to admit that. I believe that the administration under John Lee is moving step-by-step. We can see that, right? When he first took the post of CE, it’s still 7 days quarantine, shortly afterward they changed it to ‘3+4’. That is a step forward and now it changed to ‘0+3’. We, I can estimate or predict that we are going to relax most of the inbound restrictions in later time.

Chan: Right, but are you still worried about the overloading of our hospital system or medical system? I mean if there are further outbreaks, are you concerned?

Lee: Yes, of course. Therefore, I support the administrations to do it step-by-step. We have to look at figures, and also we have to look at our hospital situation, and also the situation in our community. We have…everything we have to strike a balance.

Chan: Right. And much has been said about how to fight this pandemic, although it’s the kind of things that are sort of more under control or more predicted. Vaccination is still a very important measure, and it’s still…I mean the rate is still far from most ideal for the elderly or the very young. Has DAB done anything to help the government on this?

Lee: Oh yes, from the very beginning, we do work with the government to help people to do more vaccinations. We organized, I can't remember, lots of vaccination program for people in the district. We worked with the bureau to go hand-in-hand with the medical people to go up to their home and try to explain to them the vaccination program and clarify their concerns, if any. We successfully asked some of the people or helped people to understand why they have to take the vaccines and some of the elderly and some of the young parents, they do have concerns; we have to admit that. Therefore, I believe that we need more medical people, we need more doctors, professionals, to come out, to help them to clarify their questions, their concern, so that they can take it at ease. 

Chan: Chair, I mean the DAB is the largest political party in Hong Kong, and I think it must be one of the most suited age for the Hong Kong people because you are from 18 different districts, both geographical as well as functional constituencies. So, the fact that you are going out to help to…use your market to promote Hong Kong at this important time, I think will be appreciated by many reviews. But that is only part of it. I mean to reignite Hong Kong, the title of the show says “reignite Hong Kong” because Hong Kong’s flame has kind of been put out by the last 3 years of the riots, and then the pandemic. We have much stricter quarantine measures as compared to the rest of the world. What would you or how would you suggest to the government, how can we reignite the city? And what role do you think DAB can play?

Lee: Well, you know, after our visit, we have made policy recommendations to the administrations, including the CE and the ministers. We have made eight policy recommendations. To sum up, we believe that Hong Kong should open up more and wider to ASEAN countries. Actually, not only ASEAN countries because we have to maintain our openness, we have to be the world financial center. Therefore, we have to be more open. The financial market, professional services, our universities, can serve the ASEAN countries better. The government should, of course, take more initiative to invite people, businesses, in ASEAN to come to Hong Kong to visit, to invest, to study, and to work. I believe from our visit, most of the people responded very positively to the future role to be played by Hong Kong. Therefore, I have full confidence that they will come, invest and work in Hong Kong.

Chan: Anything else apart from the … I mean, locally, anything you think the government should do? How can we…I mean, a lot of help have been given to the businesses and people, there have been like consumption vouchers, we are helping employed staff. Any new ideas that you have given to the CE with the upcoming Policy Address?

Lee: Apart from the inbound quarantine restriction, which is now dealt with by the CE in a timely manner. But, of course, we are also looking forward to the future development, right? Now it is ‘0+3, still we need to look at the facts and figures to see whether or not we have the condition to move further, that is the first thing. The second thing is I think that the government now really needs to think about how to attract business and also talent, to come and work in Hong Kong. When we met people from different sectors of Hong Kong, one of the very common issues raised by them is that we are really facing labor shortage, from professionals to different kind of workers, like drivers or people who work in the homes for the elderly. Actually, they are lacking of labor force. Therefore, I think the government needs to have the policy revised, how to attract talent, how to keep the talents in Hong Kong. 

Chan: Have you ever thought of working with the local chamber of commerce? Like for example, we had the chairman from the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, Mr Dato KC Gan, come here. Have you talked to them? Because they will be a very good link to help you to keep all the good relationships you have set up. Say with, for example, Malaysia. Have you met them yet?

Lee: Oh, yes. We met over 50 local chambers of commerce. They have a good link in the local communities. I believe apart from working with the local chamber of commerce, I think the most important thing is the government have to take the initiative to have their policy initiatives to attract talents to come. You look at other places, like Singapore, and also the UK, Australia, Canada, and major cities in the mainland. If they want to attract some enterprises, talents, they will have very active policy initiatives to do so. Hong Kong, before, we were a free market, we mostly concentrated on building up the infrastructure, building up the good condition to attract most of the businesses to come. But, I think, now they should take the active role. 

Chan: Right. So, Starry, over the show you have shared with the viewers your observations and the connections that you have made and felt when you were visiting the ASEAN countries and your suggestions to the government. How about with the mainland? I mean it is still not closing, we have been discussing whether ‘Dynamic zero clearance’ or whether living with COVID. And now we are, of course, we are not living with COVID, but we are moving more towards that direction. But when you are over that direction, the sight of being able to link up with the mainland seems to be a little further away. Do you agree? And are you concerned?

Lee: The CE did emphasize that we want both things to happen, that we want Hong Kong to reconnect with the world, and also we also have to work closely with the central government, to express to them that a lot of Hong Kong people do want to go to the mainland without the quarantine requirement. But it takes time and it takes steps. I think, at this moment, we should, hopefully, ask for more quota. That is the first thing. The second thing is that we have proposed to the government – and this proposal had been accepted by the government – that we should make use of the facilities provided by the central government to do certain days of quarantine in Hong Kong first, so as to release the pressure, the hotel pressure in the mainland. 

Chan: Right.

Lee: I think the government has a taskforce to work further on that.

Chan: Right. So, thank you Starry for coming to share with us your party’s contribution to the good story of Hong Kong, and what you have done in the ASEAN countries. And hopefully this initiative could serve as a model for further similar approach. Have a pleasant evening, and goodnight!