Hong Kong SAR: 20 years later, it’s time for 2.0

Has it been twenty years already? 1997 was a memorable year for people in Britain, for reasons good and bad. Among other events, Hong Kong was finally handed over to China, marking a new era for all concerned – Hong Kong especially.

Much has happened in the two decades since, and of the three territories, it’s China with the glowing school report. The nation is exerting its influence from Africa to Indonesia, while domestically cities such as Shanghai are luring top global talent, eager to have a stab at the world’s biggest market.

In contrast, Hong Kong and the UK have both seen relative decline (let’s be honest), becoming increasingly divided and unsure of themselves. The parallels between the two are obvious.

But life goes on, as they say, and Hong Kong is the ultimate embodiment of life. No matter who calls the shots; the territory remains a supreme machine, where 7 million people combine efficiently and tightly to keep its wheels turning.

This is hustle and bustle on steroids (if you’re looking for balance, you’ve come to the wrong place), with Hong Kong operating with an intensity and impatience that makes London feel like a country club in comparison.

Yet despite the blistering pace, Hong Kong feels remarkably risk-averse. If Silicon Valley’s mantra is “move fast and break things”, Hong Kong’s spirit can be better described as “move fast and keep things unchanged”. From tech to housing and public light shows, the city now trails behind Shanghai, Singapore and even neighbouring Shenzhen.

There is, mercifully, a growing appetite for disruption. Call it what you want: fintech, regtech, wealth tech, biotech, travel tech, the movements are out there, eager to cement Hong Kong’s “hub” status in the region, leveraging on the city’s strengths.

To get “there” – frankly there is no final destination, as this is a process of constant reiteration and reinvention – Hong Kong will need to overcome its biggest adversary. Not Singapore, not China, but itself. It won’t be easy.

As Hong Kong enters its third decade and adulthood since the handover, new opportunities (and challenges) await that will better serve the “intrapreneurs” and change makers among us. We could be witnessing the start of a new era altogether. And if anyone can help put an end to the city’s whopping cost of living, beers are on me…

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