Despite the Hong Kong government’s enthusiasm, economist Stephen Wong Yuen-shan does not see why young people should jump on the bandwagon to work in China. He says that as more and more mainland students return to China after studying abroad, Hong Kong youngsters no longer have the advantages of a more global vision and greater connection to the Western world.
What is more, Hong Kong graduates do not have the social networks to get ahead in China. “In the Mainland it’s all about connections,” says Wong. “[Mainlanders] who study abroad are at least from the middle-class, so they must have networks.”
Wong says that even if a Hong Kong company, like the Pacific Coffee Company, expands to China, they are unlikely to send Hong Kong staff there when Mainlanders can do the job just as well and for lower pay. Only a few senior executives will be sent to China to take up management roles. “Only the Hong Kong brands and investments flow into mainland China, not the Hong Kong employees,” explains Wong.
Li Kui-wai, an associate professor at the Department of Economics and Finance at City University, says there is no clear trend showing Hong Kong students want to work in China. In fact, the latest data from the Census and Statistics Department shows the Hong Kong workforce in the Mainland has dropped by 28 per cent from over 240,000 in 2004 to less than 180,000 in 2010. In addition, over one-third of the Hong Kong workforce in the Mainland is aged over 50; those in their 20s make up less than 8 per cent of the Hong Kong workforce in the Mainland.
Given this picture, Hong Kong youngsters may well have to make do with jobs in Hong Kong. But Li believes the current economic structure of Hong Kong is a problem in itself. He says that heavy reliance on the service industry leads to low social mobility in the younger generation. Unlike in technology or the manufacturing industry, the service industry is not skills-oriented, so there are few promotion prospects for service jobs such as sales assistants.
Instead of the service industry, Li thinks the government should be promoting niche industries such as agricultural testing or medical testing. He says these markets are relatively stable and tapping into new industries will improve jobs diversity in Hong Kong.
Li puts forward a conflicting view to the one expressed in the Policy Address. Instead of working in the Mainland, Hong Kong youngsters should work on the things the Mainland cannot do or currently lacks. For instance, he suggests Hong Kong could take advantage of the distrust in mainland products by, for example, focusing on exporting quality products like milk powder to China‒with a “Made in Hong Kong” label.
“Hong Kong’s survival has always depended on the shortcomings of the Mainland. If China can’t do it, Hong Kong will do it,” says Li. “That’s how it used to be, that’s how it is and how it will be.”
His scepticism of the Chief Executive’s “Go North” initiative is shared by Albert Lai Kwong-tak, policy convenor of the think tank Professional Commons. He says it is irresponsible of the government to promote this initiative without any substantial support such as venture capital. In fact, he believes the kind of success depicted in Leung’s story about the young entrepreneur is the exception rather than the norm.
While Lai maintains Hong Kong-China economic cooperation benefits both parties, he is cautious as to what this “integration” entails. Lai believes the current Hong Kong government is too focused on supporting the Mainland’s economy and has lost sight of diversifying Hong Kong’s own economy.
“Hong Kong has lost its economic sovereignty and development direction. We are merely following the Mainland’s suit,” says Lai. “If integration means over-reliance on the Mainland’s economy, and hindering Hong Kong’s development, I do not agree with it.”
Edited by Emily Chung