The Hong Kong government is rolling out a “charm offensive” for international companies in an attempt to lure business that might otherwise go to other Asian financial centers back to Hong Kong. Described by John Lee as “the world’s biggest welcome, ever,” the campaign includes a PR initiative known as “Hello Hong Kong,” which promotes the city’s business environment. The Hong Kong government has also pledged to expedite visas for graduates of top universities, set aside money for international businesses to relocate to Hong Kong, and give away up to 500,000 free airline tickets to the city.
This all-out push to attract foreign business and talent comes on the heels of a notable decline in Hong Kong’s status as an international business hub. Since 2019, the number of international businesses with regional headquarters in Hong Kong has declined precipitously, falling to an all time low in 2021. Tourism has similarly declined, with visas and hotel bookings falling as a result of Hong Kong’s Covid control policies. This decline in Hong Kong’s status has also been marked by a notable immigration outflow, with emigration numbers recently reaching the highest in the city’s history.
John Lee’s push to attract international businesses to Hong Kong is indicative of the degree to which the Hong Kong government wants to disguise the significant political risks it has created—not just to international companies, but also to any foreign expat who wants to live in the city. As noted in HKDC’s report Business Not as Usual, international companies urgently need to develop a set of Hong Kong-specific compliance and ethics policies that will address these risks.
The issuance of expedited visas to graduates of top global universities may also indicate that the Hong Kong government is facing a “brain drain” owing to increased immigration outflows. As international businesses leave Hong Kong, this problem will only increase, as both native Hong Kong hours, and expats look elsewhere for economic opportunities in competitive fields.