But one city, arguably the largest financial center in Asia, is absent from the list: Hong Kong.
“We have made it clear that our focus will be on opening the border with the mainland. The people of Hong Kong need to move to the mainland,” city leader Carrie Lam told a news conference on Tuesday. “Of course, international travel is important, international trade is important to us – but by comparison, the mainland is more important.”
Lam’s comments show how closely Hong Kong’s government has tied its COVID strategy to China – not surprising for a Chinese region, but another sign of Hong Kong’s deteriorating reputation as an international hub .
China has maintained a strict zero-Covid approach, even as many other countries transition to living with the coronavirus. Hong Kong’s adherence to the decision means that the diverse metropolis, once known for attracting international business and globetrotting expats, is instead retreating into isolation.
Thomas said the government has also struggled to scale up the vaccine among older people, meaning “a large proportion of our population will be exposed to Delta-related problems the moment we open up internationally.”
There is also an economic argument. At Tuesday’s news conference, Lam argued that many Hong Kong-based companies do business in the mainland, which has made the border again critical to the economy.
“Arguably, the opening up to China will bring much greater economic value,” said Bernard Chan, coordinator of the Government Advisory Executive Council. Before the pandemic, about 300,000 people were crossing the border every day – now it’s “a small figure”, meaning significantly less business for the retail and hospitality sectors.
But there are also political considerations. In the two years of political turmoil following the 2019 Hong Kong protests, China has expanded its reach in the city more and more – and in turn, Lam’s administration has pushed for its integration with the mainland. The rhetoric has been pushed forward.
The city government, Thomas said, does not want “to be seen as following an antitrust policy like the rest of China.” “China is fundamentally going to pursue a zero-tolerance strategy for the foreseeable future, which means Hong Kong could either go in opposition (and open internationally) or align with China.”
Despite intense criticism, the government has repeatedly defended its action. On Tuesday, Lam pointed to economic expansion in the first quarter, arguing that the city has not been badly hit by the tighter restrictions.
And, Chan claimed, the majority of Hong Kong people are happy with things as they are.
“It’s just numbers,” he said. Those looking to open up international travel – expatriates, people with families abroad – “unfortunately, this is a minority. Their priorities are different from those based at the local level.”
The wider general public “is used to zero cases, they are happy,” he said. “They are willing to give up leisure travel for the sake of public health.”
The city is now effectively in limbo, backed into a corner by its policies and there is no easy way out. If Hong Kong does reopen to international travel, it will almost certainly see a surge in infections – and with China lose all opportunities to reopen.
But if it continues on its current path, it can’t be said when China will feel confident enough to reopen the border, or what criteria Hong Kong needs to meet – the city has been handed over to the central government. Leaving at the gesture, the bus is waiting to go in, Thomas said, and that means resting on a zero-Covid strategy, “which seems increasingly untenable in a world where COVID has basically become endemic.”
“Hong Kong has no real decision-making power,” he said. “No option is ideal.”
Credit : www.cnn.com