Face it, Hong Kong: Singapore is Asia's world city

Face it, Hong Kong: Singapore is Asia's world city
PHOTO: Pixabay

We're fresh into the Year of the Pig, so let's be nice to everyone. But being nice doesn't mean truth-telling is off-limits. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

That's exactly what I'm going to do with some hard truths that we, as Hongkongers, must face. One such hard fact hit us just a week ago as the city readied for the Lunar New Year.

An international survey showed Hong Kong sliding 12 places to an embarrassing 41 as a liveable city for Asian expats, our worst ranking in a decade. We call ourselves Asia's world city but Asians have given us the thumbs down as a liveable city. That's a paradox that should shame us.

It was 20 years ago that former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa branded Hong Kong as Asia's world city in his annual policy speech, putting it on a par with New York and London.

Tung claimed the crown based on promises to make Hong Kong great. The ones that stood out when I reread them were commitments to maintaining the rule of law, freedom of expression and association, the free flow of information and openness and diversity, as well as the commitment to enhancing quality of life.

I believe the rule of law is still intact even though the Heritage Foundation, which consistently ranks us as the world's freest economy, warned in its latest report that Beijing is now meddling in our judicial independence. But freedom of expression and association? The free flow of information? Surely, they now ring hollow.

Hongkongers no longer have the freedom to peacefully support independence or self-determination. A prison cell awaits those who do, as it soon will for those who mock the national anthem.

People cannot associate with the localist Hong Kong National Party, which the government has banned. The media exercises the free flow of information with great caution nowadays, fearing repercussions if it talks to independence advocates.

Openness died when the Foreign Correspondents' Club came under relentless attack by the government and Beijing for hosting a lunch speech by the convenor of the National Party.

I have said before I flatly reject Hong Kong independence. But I see no real harm in a tiny group of delusional people with no public support peacefully advocating the merits - there aren't any - of it.

Enhancing the quality of life? Ask any Hongkonger and most will tell you it sucks. In the 20 years since Tung's promise, ordinary Hongkongers have been priced out of the homes market. Those who can afford it must pay big bucks for flats barely the size of a parking space.

Air pollution has worsened, hospitals overflow to the breaking point every flu season, waiting time for public housing is over five years and more than 200,000 people live in subdivided homes.

Last year, 65 million tourists flooded Hong Kong. That's only about 10 million fewer than for the whole of the United States. Almost 80 per cent who came were mainlanders, most of them day trippers who swarmed residential areas to buy groceries, ruining the quality of life for locals.

How can life quality improve if you add the four million mainlanders who come monthly, on average, effectively raising Hong Kong's population to well over 11 million?

The liveability survey partly blamed last year's Typhoon Mangkhut for our dismal ranking, not because it struck but for the appalling way we handled its aftermath. Five months after the typhoon, the waterfront park near where I live is still being repaired.

We were once a city with good governance that motivated people to achieve the Hong Kong dream. That city has long passed its prime.

Singapore has been ranked first for 17 years running as the most liveable city. It beats us in most other surveys and comes a close second in the Heritage survey. Yet we still call ourselves Asia's world city. What a joke. That title rightfully belongs to Singapore. It's a hard truth we must admit.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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