Hong Kong attracts expats back

By Li Ruohan in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/29 0:23:39

Residents benefit greatly from closer mainland connection

Flags of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are displayed outside a shopping center in Hong Kong on Wednesday to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China. Photo: AP

When Timmy Wan first returned to Hong Kong from Vancouver, Canada, in 1998, he said he was surprised, but proud of the city's development, as when he left 10 years before, he was uncertain of its fate.

Wan's family came to Hong Kong in the 1950s, together with many Chinese mainlanders who were expecting to make a fortune on the island at a time when their lives held more uncertain prospects.

Wan's father was just a small boy when he boarded the boat crammed with mainlanders hoping for better lives. He did not expect that when the boat stopped, halfway between the coast of Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, they would all be told to jump in the water and swim for it. "We're here. Jump in and swim to shore," the captain ordered.

There's no official data for the number of mainlanders who snuck into Hong Kong during that period, but a report from the BBC in 2016 put the number at around 200,000, with about 8.6 percent of people dying on the way, citing experts.

The spirit of exploration evidently passed on to Wan, who decided to move to Vancouver in the 1990s, and back to the island again in 1998, one year after the handover of Hong Kong to China.

Different from the life of an "outsider," the life of being a Hongkonger again made the 46-year-old feel safe. He took over his family's optician business, expanding it to the mainland, where he has a factory with more than 200 employees at busy times.

Close connection

Wan is among many Hong Kong residents who have benefited from the close connection between Hong Kong and the mainland after the city's handover to the country, which once was a cause for  concern about the future of Hong Kong, its diversity and its vigor.

The most concerned were expats. Official numbers show that the population of foreign people in Hong Kong dropped from 16,561 in 1997 to 14,920 in 1998, or about 10 percent.

"More and more Americans and Europeans are coming to the place while less British people are seen, and newcomers are more diverse, with more from grass-roots backgrounds," said Alex, a German pilot who came to Hong Kong 17 years ago.

The biggest difference after 20 years is that many young people in Hong Kong are influenced by the wrong people, who are trying to do something big for their own purposes, said John, an Australian man in his 50s who came to Hong Kong in 1992.

Wan said he shared the same views, as do many locals of the middle-aged generation, who told the Global Times that they are shocked that some young people living in one of the world's biggest financial hubs had suddenly become unfriendly and full of anger. They attributed the sense of resentment among the young to failings in the education system.

The 79-day Occupy Central movement of 2014 and the Mongkok riots in 2016 were seen as the most "disruptive and violent mass protests in half a century," according to Thomas Hon Wing Polin, a senior editor at the international newsweekly Asiaweek.

However, many ordinary residents of Hong Kong had to suffer the consequences.

"Roads and traffic were blocked then at Mongkok, and stores popular with mainlanders were frequently harassed by radical activists, and finally, fewer and fewer mainlanders came to visit," said Wan, adding that the aftermath of the illegal movement is still being felt among many businesses in Hong Kong.

"But I am glad that the system stays, and my industry was not affected," John said, referring to "one country, two systems," which guarantees the rights of Hong Kong after the handover.

John works at a construction material company, and remembers colleagues celebrating at the office in Hong Kong's Central district for the handover ceremony in 1997.

Now, the company is embracing more opportunity with the country's Belt and Road initiative and the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Many local officials, including Wilson Or Chong Shing, a legislative councilor, have hailed the Belt and Road and the Greater Bay Area plan as a great opportunity to boost Hong Kong's economy.

"The support from the mainland and the strategic position of Hong Kong in those plans proves the success of the 'one country, two systems,'" he said, adding that he expected more gifts from the mainland after the 20th anniversary of the handover.

The attraction of the mainland, where "the people are very hospitable, they complain less, and the life there is more leisurely," is also encouraging Wan to move to a mainland city after his son goes to university.

"I have always said I am a Chinese, and that's what I told my foreign friends, and I believe in its future, as well as the future of my hometown Hong Kong," he said.

Newspaper headline: HK attracts expats back


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