Published: 16:07, July 11, 2023 | Updated: 17:59, July 11, 2023
Lee: Consensus on focus on developing HK potentials for most return
By Eugene Chan

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (right) attends the Straight Talk show on TVB, July 4, 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu is on the show this week. 

Lee tells us how his administration is telling the Hong Kong story, and how we can improve going forward. He even shares with us he manages to de-stress a little despite the lack of down time to relax.

Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr Eugene Chan’s interview with the CE:

Chan: Good evening! Thank you for joining us on Straight Talk. Our guest tonight needs no introduction. We are indeed honored to have our Chief Executive, John Lee, spend some time with us. Lee was last on Straight Talk in October shortly after he made his maiden Policy Address and shared with us his vision of a new chapter to lead Hong Kong for a brighter tomorrow. We have just celebrated our 26th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland, and now we're looking forward to the Chief Executive sharing with us on whether our city is fulfilling our unique role of being an effective bridge between the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world. Welcome, CE! 

CE: Hello, Eugene. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to come here so that we can talk about things that we're interested in and also talk to the people.

Chan: Yes. CE, firstly, congratulations that you're reaching your first anniversary of your term. And it actually has been quite an eventful year because I still remember last time when we interviewed you, we were still in mask and now we can do it without mask and, actually, we have travelled in between as well. Perhaps we could start off by asking you to share with us what would be your biggest take away? And what have you valued the most in your first year in office?

CE: You rightly have pointed out that I'm most pleased with the fact that we are now fully opened. We have resumed full travel, resumption of normal activity with all the mainland cities and also fully connected to the world. That's very important because for three years we’ve been troubled by COVID and we went through very difficult time. We couldn't do a lot of things we wanted to do. We couldn't talk to people. We could not meet people in the way we would normally do. And at that time, before we actually reached the end of the tunnel. Of course everybody was a bit disappointed and down about not knowing when it will end. So, during the whole process, I have been talking to the people to tell them we have to proceed pragmatically so that we don't sway one way or the other. We continue in the path mainly to ensure that people maintain their confidence and hope. So, I am very thankful to the citizens of Hong Kong and also my team that we have eventually successfully beaten the pandemic’s trouble and we now can really get back to normal life. And I'm also very glad that after we have resumed normalcy, society really have been happier, and people generally have more confidence and they are all relatively more united to agree with the direction that I want Hong Kong to take, which is to really go for economic development, to fight for more opportunities for Hong Kong so that we can all get better return from an economic success and the developments that we can make.

Chan: CE, you promised to bring a result-oriented approach to governing and in your October Policy Address, you have set 194 KPIs, of which 68 were to be met by middle of this year. I mean we know we read in the news that you have already delivered 66 of the 68. You must be very happy. From the viewers, we see the tourist numbers have gone back to like 40 percent of the pre-pandemic level. The unemployment rate is down to 3 percent and the six-year wait for the public housing is down to like 5.3. So, you must be very pleased. Have I missed out on any of your achievements?

CE: For all these important tasks, I would always aim for higher results. So, while I think in general a lot of things that we have been doing, in some way have been meeting my demands, I am a believer that there's never been the best, only the better. And also for, I think, public policy and for ensuring economic development and livelihood are taken well care of, we should always be aiming at working more. There's no final destination for this. It's a long-term process, so we'll keep working hard. But one thing I'm pleased with is the general consensus that we focus our attention on developing all the potentials of Hong Kong for creating most return within the shortest period of time and that unity in thinking and that commitment by society as a whole, particularly from different sectors, different leaders who have been joining me in telling the world that Hong Kong is the place for them to come, to invest, to live. I'm very pleased with that passion and that joint commitment.

Chan: CE you just mentioned the economy is something that very dear to your heart, it’s very important. Financial Secretary Paul Chan has reported we have an improvement, for the first quarter, we have a year-on-year growth of 2.7 percent, but as you said it’s never enough because we have seen the normalcy with the cross boundary travel resumed to normal. But then the kind of the rebound is milder than we expect. So, shall we say, are we running out of silver bullets? Or do we have any more … anything in the toolbox to stimulate the economy?

CE: I think we have to be pragmatic. There are things we're doing better, but they are also threats and also disadvantages. Our imports and exports are not doing very well, I think the figures tell themselves. And also the geopolitical situation and the economic situation of the different countries around the world do give us some reservation as to how progressively we can proceed. But there are positive factors that we think luckily Hong Kong is enjoying and can join more. First of all, we see that tourism has picked up, consumption has picked up. These, I believe, will be the two driving forces to take us through and we have already reversed the downward trend of the GDP growth. So, we are seeing in the first quarter this positive growth as you have described 2.7 percent. And also some of the measures that we are rolling out or have rolled out will take time to actually see the benefit. The consumption voucher is one driving factor and consumption in this regard will help us. And also we make use of other opportunities to create economic activities. We have all these bazaars we have a lot of promotion activities so that people will come not just to celebrate the establishment of the special administrative region for the 26th anniversary, and also one factor which we Hong Kong as an SAR being part of our country enjoys, which is the national development plans and strategies that offer us the unparalleled advantages that any other cities outside our country will not enjoy. So, this include the 14-5 year plan, the GBA development and the Belt and Road Initiative. One thing that I'm very conscious of making the government do is that we play an active role to ensure that we capitalize all these opportunities. We don't let go. And by being active you also will ensure that you create efficiency so you squeeze the time to reap the same benefit and that is by doing this in every sector, every area. I hope the cumulative effect will create the momentum and the actual impact for people to see. And our unemployment rate has dropped from the worst time which was at one stage 7 percent, to the present time 3 percent. And also household income on average has increased by 2.1 percent in the first quarter. Some of the measures we have rolled out and some we will be rolling out, means that's well very likely third quarter will be better than second quarter and the fourth quarter will be better than the third quarter. We estimate that we will have growth of between 3.5 to 5.5 percent. So, on the average is around 4.5 percent. Some people are even more optimistic than us to say that we can actually be more than 5 percent. But I think we'll be pragmatic because some say that, well, there are a lot of things that are still challenges.

Chan: Right. CE, since it's very encouraging to know that we'll be having average of 4.5 percent, but we must look at in the past. In the past four decades, Hong Kong has exceled along the growth of the Chinese economy. And that said, and mindfully, the actual growth trajectory of our, of the country and the uncertainties around the geopolitical tensions, are now weighing on our growth momentum. So, what is your perspective and how do you think it's going to impact Hong Kong with all these things happening on the mainland? There's actually nothing much we can do because we are part of the country?

CE: Well, I think we have suffered from two factors. First, it was the COVID, which really stopped activities in society. The second, I mean everybody, I hope they will still remember, it is the 2019 violence and riots, the attempted two-color revolution that caused havoc and all the destruction and the damage. And it has broken everybody's heart. And so, we lost time in that regard and also we at one stage at LegCo (Legislative Council), which was sort of devastating pulling back the implementation of policies of the government, sabotaging actually, and of course there are cases that are being dealt with now. So, these are the difficult times that we went through. I am optimistic in regard to several things because first of all I think the government team is united. We share the same belief that we should be result-oriented. Probably we were too focused on procedures. Yes, procedures are important, but at the end of the day it’s not what you do. You can work a lot in the factory, by end of the day it’s how many cars you produce, how many cans of food that you produce and whether these are good products.

Chan: Yes. I think we have to take a break now. Viewers, we will be right back. 

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu attends the Straight Talk show on TVB, July 4, 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chan: Welcome back to Straight Talk. Our Chief Executive John Lee is with us tonight sharing the results his administration has achieved in the first 12 months in office and the major challenges they have faced. So, CE, thank you very much for telling us we're going to be hopefully looking at a 4.5 percent economic growth, there's a good power engine for Hong Kong. But this and something that I'm sure many viewers would want to hear from you directly, is despite all efforts, I know there are a lot of misconceptions from the West, that are Hong Kong's freedom and rights “have been eroded”. Can Hong Kong do anything to amend this and make us look good again? Because certainly we often hear from people from overseas asking such questions. We will reply. But what can we do as a city to making sure this message is passed across forcefully?

CE: Well, there are a lot of things we can do. We all know the reason why these things happen, because some countries that do a miscalculation of China's peaceful economic development and also miscalculated the intention of what we want to do and for political reasons. Sometimes they may see that well, they are areas they want to maintain their leading positions and they somehow believe that they are being challenged. So, various political reasons. I can understand why they attacked us, even though it’s not based on facts. Because in politics, you know, anything can happen. But we can do a lot because I think you cannot hide facts. Facts are facts. Lies are lies. The facts are, first of all, the Basic Law. Since this promulgation, no word has ever been changed in the Basic Law. The 160 articles in the Basic Law, remain as they are. And also, the standard of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong has not changed. It remains the international standard, which is governed by two international covenants. One is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These are international standards, the base of Law said these two standards apply to Hong Kong. Even the Hong Kong security law says in the first chapter these two international covenants apply to Hong Kong. So, nothing has changed. It's only the people who tried to bad mouth or try to say something to us for their own political gain. They distort the actual facts. 

What we need to do is go out and tell the true facts. We have a lot of things we can tell the world. First of all, independent studies have already given us very clear evidence of what we are. We are the number one freest economy. We are the most friendly business environment city. We are an aviation hub. Our airport is number one in 2022. We are very good in regard to human capital and human development because at least two studies indicate that we are number 2 or number 4, and our public transport system has been regarded as number 1 amongst the 60 advanced cities in the world, and they relate to reliability calls and coverage. And we have a lot of strengths such as we are the largest RMB offshore center, we’re an international financial center and we have maintained stability which is important for anything to thrive and prosper. That's one thing we need to tell the world. The second thing we need to build the strength capability to talk about this. That means I'll go out, my government team will go out.

Not just that, I think anybody in Hong Kong should go out together and tell the world that the facts, the true stories. And I'm very pleased that so far I've been seeing a very relatively more united Hong Kong. And those who have been joining me in going out to different parts of the world to tell the Hong Kong story are very compassionate and also committed, passionate and committed. And so they are all telling the good story, with their own ways. And one last thing if you allow me, Eugene, seeing is believing. So, what the government is doing is we have already resurrected the visitor’s scheme. We stopped it because of COVID and now we are inviting people from different countries, different sectors to come to see Hong Kong as it is and then go back to tell their counterparts their peoples, well, how Hong Kong is thriving. How people go about what they want to do freely and happily every day, and what are the opportunities, and what are the potential for them to come to Hong Kong, to work, to live, to start their business. Particularly, we are an international city, at the same time a gateway to mainland markets. We are the direct bridge to the GBA (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area). We are part of the GBA. And the GBA's potential is huge because if you look at the GDP capacity is equivalent to 9th in ranking. So, that GDP is a natural fact for people to appreciate that. Through Hong Kong, there will be a lot of different facilitation and convenience we can eventually create, for people to get into the GBA. I'm working on a lot of plans to create this kind of convenience.

Chan: CE, since you mentioned that, you feel the Hong Kong people are being more united. But one thing that we must not overlook is we have a lot of people who have emigrated, but we are now … we have a manpower shortage in the community. That's the reason why we have a lot of schemes to trawl the talents and very happy to know that we have also surpassed the aim that we wanted to achieve. We've got there already. But I heard that 95 percent of the visa application are mainly from the mainland, which is fine, it doesn't matter where the people come from. But being an international city, what can we do more so that more international people will come to Hong Kong, and doing exactly what you said, then our true story, our good story will be heard by them.

Straight Talk presenter Eugene Chan (left) interviews Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu on TVB, July 4, 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

CE: This is I think what I together with my government team are doing and we also with the different sectors leaders going out to do because we are going to different parts of the world to tell them, well, Hong Kong is the place for them to come and that would attract them to come. For example, I made a visit to the Middle East. I visited Saudi Arabia and also the UAE. The results were actually better than I expected. We have established government-to-government link already. And a lot of business people, government officials will be visiting Hong Kong and a lot of them are already visiting and that they will come and add to the talents we want to attract. One important thing is talents come with enterprises. 

Chan: Exactly.

CE: And also talents come with investment. I am already seeing quite successful enterprises are thinking of setting up their offices in Hong Kong. Some already expanded their investment, some are considering expanding, and new chambers of commerce have been established. That is a sign that we will be attracting more and more people from different parts of the world. I will soon be going to at least three ASEAN countries and they will be joining us. And I'm very conscious of enhancing our role in the Belt and Road initiative. And you know Belt and Road initiative is a successful initiative creating connection from different parts of the world that also helps in bringing talents from different parts of the world to Hong Kong. In the long run, I think we will be very strong.

Chan: Right. I have to ask you the second last question. It's the title of the show. Is Hong Kong fulfilling our unique role? Because a lot of friends, a lot of people in the community, supporting the government felt that we are losing it a bit, especially perception wise that Hong Kong is no longer the Hong Kong we used to be. Hong Kong has changed. But we understand the whole world is changing. Can you assure the Hong Kong people that we will be striving on our strength? That is being independent, independent thinking, we have our freedom of speech and the rule of law. Can you promise the Hong Kong people?

CE: There are things which remain as they are. No change. That is “one country, two systems”. That's the Basic Law, 160 articles remain as they are. But there are things which have changed for better, at some stage, as I have explained and we all experienced 2019, indicated that we walked along a wrong path. We went in the wrong direction. Of course, if one goes in the wrong direction, we should correct that. We have corrected it. So, national security threat is well under control. We have patriots administering Hong Kong, so we don't have to worry about traitors actually being the agent of a foreign country trying to sabotage Hong Kong. So, these are corrections for the better, and we are now proceeding in a very prosperous and correct direction that will ensure that, in the long term, we will have stability and prosperity.

Chan: CE, I'm going to ask you the last question which is going to be the hardest of the interview. I need a quick answer. You must be the busiest person in Hong Kong. I know you've only taken 2 1/2 days off in the last 12 months. Are you still able to pursue your interest and having what we want, a work-life balance?

CE: Well, I'll try my best to, but I have my ways. I have been telling people that I'm practicing Qi Kung. Qi Kung has the advantage of allowing me to recover, using even very short period of time. So, people do sometimes associate it with meditation, but it's more than meditation.

Chan: Right. Thank you CE for sharing with us the work you have embarked on in your first 12 months in office. We know that our CE is ready to take on the challenges ahead and to ensure Hong Kong can fulfill our unique role under “one country two systems” and be able to contribute to our nation. Have a great evening and see you next week!