HONG KONG - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam wants to emulate Singapore by having her government play a more active role.
Despite its laissez-faire tradition, the Hong Kong government needs to intervene more if it wants to compete with other economies, she said in an interview with The Straits Times on Friday (July 28).
"The government has to provide vision and leadership and this is where I think we have a lot to learn from Singapore," said Mrs Lam, 60, who is planning her first overseas trip as chief executive, to Singapore from Aug 2 to Aug 3 next week.
She praised the city-state's government for being "very pro-active, taking the initiative and capable", adding that this means it is very strong in execution.
Hong Kong can learn from Singapore by taking on a more active role as a facilitator to promote the city and attract more foreign investors, said Mrs Lam.
By picking Singapore as her first official destination after becoming Chief Executive, Mrs Lam is seen to be making a concerted effort to reaffirm ties with the Republic, after the Hong Kong Customs Authority had seized nine military vehicles belonging to the Singapore Government in November 2016.
On Friday, Mrs Lam said the incident did not affect ties between the two cities, which both put a strong emphasis on the rule of law.
She said the incident was dealt with entirely in accordance with Hong Kong laws and the robust control regime of strategic commodities. As it involved the Singapore Government, Hong Kong Customs Authority "actually expedited the investigation with the objective of releasing the armoured vehicles back to Singapore as early as possible", said Mrs Lam.
"So I don't think it has affected our ties and I hope that my Singapore counterparts will think likewise."
The vehicles, which were being transported on a commercial ship back to Singapore after training exercises in Taiwan, were detained by Hong Kong Customs Authority, when it made a port call in the city. They were returned to Singapore in January 2017.
Mrs Lam said her two-day visit to Singapore aims to foster closer ties between Hong Kong and countries of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).
During the two-day visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mrs Lam will meet senior government officials and visit GovTech Hive, an innovation lab for digital services, as well as the Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority and Civil Service College.
Mrs Lam has been to Singapore many times, five being official visits in her previous official capacities, said the upcoming visit to Singapore, then Thailand, has been planned considering that Asean is Hong Kong's second largest trading partner in terms of merchandise.
Hong Kong, which first set up an economic trade office in Singapore in 1995, is the city's fifth largest trading partner and vice versa.
Mrs Lam said Hong Kong would likely reach a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Asean before the end of this year, after negotiations had started in 2015.
"So I thought it would be a good idea for me to pay a visit to the leaders in some of the Asean nations in anticipation of the conclusion of this FTA. Because I am sure the successful conclusion of the FTA is due to the support of the leaders of the Asean member nations, so I have chosen to go to Singapore and Thailand on one trip," said Mrs Lam who will depart Singapore for Bangkok on the evening of Aug 3. She will return to Hong Kong on Aug 5.