Experts say that no measures have been taken by Hong Kong’s new chief executive, John Lee, to address the ongoing mass outflow of the city’s talents and funds. Lee assumed office July 1.
As the end of the summer break approaches, many parents are sending their children to study abroad. It has become common to see teenagers or young adults weeping while hugging family members or close friends at Hong Kong International Airport's departure terminal.
Lo Mian (pseudonym) is heading to Taiwan to pursue a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He believes Taiwanese society is open, traditional, and culturally closer to him.
He said recent changes in Hong Kong’s social environment have contributed to his desire to study abroad.
According to Lo, Hong Kong’s society has become more “alienating” due to disagreements among its residents. Many may “never see each other again” due to the emigration wave.
However, Lo said he still plans to return to Hong Kong in the future. He was born and raised there and his family and friends are all still in the city.
Chinnie is heading to Canada for university, adding that she will return to Hong Kong to visit family and friends during school breaks.
She said the stress of living in the city has increased in many ways. Chinnie said that Hong Kong has become a society under heavy surveillance.
“You have to be careful when you go out and do things. It seems like a lot of people are watching you, especially online, always critical of what you say,” Chinnie said.
“It feels like the people in Hong Kong are not as happy as before. People seem to be more on edge and disconnected due to the pandemic. In the past, when you sneezed in public, someone would hand you a tissue. But now people would leave immediately and don’t seem to care about each other anymore.”
Residents Liquidating Assets Below Market ValueTo enable their children to leave Hong Kong, parents are selling real estate property at a loss to raise funds.
Ms. Wong, a realtor in Hong Kong with over 30 years of experience, recently met an elderly woman desperate to send her son abroad. The woman told Wong she was willing to sell her property—worth at least $1.87 million in market value—for only $1.15 million, a massive loss.
However, the bank did not approve a loan for the prospective buyers, so the property did not sell, Wong said.
She said that since Hong Kong’s economy has not yet recovered, businesses are not doing well and the rate of return is low. The low selling price in this instance made the bank reluctant to lend. Even if a bank is willing to grant a mortgage, it may only lend 20 percent to 30 percent at most, and loans are subject to scrutiny.
In addition, loans are subject to scrutiny. “They will ask you where your cash came from . . . in fear of money laundering,” Wong said.
She said the city’s younger generation wants to immigrate, and the older generation wants to cash out, so banks are trying to prevent an outflow of cash. However, the poor often have no choice but to stay.
“Hong Kong’s property prices are starting to fall now; they are also facing the pressure of raising interest rates and reducing rents," Wong added. “The city’s economy is not yet in recovery; it is only doing what it can to minimize losses and get by.”
Scholar: Emigration Wave Exacerbates Aging PopulationIndependent political scientist Benson Wong said that in the past, the Hong Kong government has addressed the city’s emigration waves.
Wong said, for example, that the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre stuck fear into Hong Kong residents at the time, resulting in an emigration wave. However, the city’s government introduced a series of infrastructure projects and expanded local universities to incentivize residents to stay.
However, according to Wong, Lee has not taken any measures like this.
Wong predicts that the city’s public expenditure will rise due to its aging population. Meanwhile, the emigration wave will hurt Hong Kong's economy as the money flows out along with an emigration “brain drain.”
He believes there may be a chain of merchant closure between Christmas 2022 and the next year's Lunar New Year.
Cheung Man-lung, a former vice-chairman of Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing District Council, said city authorities are unsure how to deal with the emigration wave. They have tried to alleviate social problems with older methods such as building new houses, but do not recognize the real problem.
He said survey results reflect residents’ low confidence in Hong Kong's future, reflecting concerns about personal freedom in the increasingly authoritarian city.
“[Even though] on the surface, the government has relaxed the pandemic prevention measures, there are more and more restrictions on people’s daily life, including [the government’s introduction] of ‘red and yellow codes’ that restrict residents’ access to certain businesses,” Cheung added.
The tiered health code system, similar to that used in mainland China, was introduced in August.