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 yesterday.
"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 visiting the Republic next Wednesday and Thursday in her first official trip as Chief Executive.
She praised the city-state's Government for its initiative, capability and how it is proactive, adding that this means it is very strong in execution.
Her government faces more obstacles in passing legislation as it does not have representatives in the Legislative Council, she said, unlike the Singapore Government, which has a strong presence in Parliament. In Hong Kong, the chief executive cannot be part of a political party.
Still, the Hong Kong government can learn from Singapore by taking on a more active role in promoting the city and attracting more foreign investors, said Mrs Lam.
HK has the 'capability to invest overseas'
Hong Kong is no longer just "a super-connector" to China, said Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Instead, the city now has the capability to invest overseas, she said, citing how railway operator MTR Corporation has expanded its operations to Australia and Sweden.
The recent purchase of London's Walkie Talkie building by Hong Kong food company Lee Kum Kee Group for a record £1.3 billion (S$2.3 billion) is another example of Hong Kong's companies going global, she added.
In an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Mrs Lam also spoke about the economic benefits of the HK$84.4 billion (S$14.8 billion) Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link connecting the city to the mainland. She quashed talk that letting mainland laws apply to a section of the West Kowloon Terminus would set a precedent for other parts of the city.
"It's a scaremongering tactic of some people," said Mrs Lam, who feels that most of the city's residents welcome the Hong Kong section of the high-speed rail.
Mrs Lam, widely seen as Beijing's choice as Chief Executive, said there is no room for independence in Hong Kong. She said it was inevitable that lawmakers who had allegedly broken the law in their swearing-in oaths last year were disqualified from the legislature.
Hong Kong's new leader noted earlier this year that the city had fallen behind its chief Asian rival, Singapore. In March, she said Hong Kong may cut taxes and offer more incentives to catch up with Singapore in the contest for foreign investments.
In any case, by picking Singapore as her first official destination, Mrs Lam is seen to be making a concerted effort to reaffirm ties with the Republic, after Hong Kong Customs seized nine Singapore Armed Forces military vehicles in November last year.
Yesterday, Mrs Lam said the incident did not affect ties between the two cities, which both emphasise 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 "actually expedited the investigation with the objective of releasing the armoured vehicles back to Singapore as early as possible", she said. "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 when it made a port call in Hong Kong. They were returned to Singapore in January this year.
Mrs Lam, who is visiting Thailand after Singapore, said her trip is to foster closer ties between Hong Kong and Asean countries.
During the visit, at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mrs Lam will meet officials and visit GovTech Hive, an innovation lab for digital services, as well as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Civil Service College.
Mrs Lam said as Hong Kong will likely reach a free trade agreement with Asean before year end, she thought it would be good to visit leaders in some of the Asean states.
Watch ST's interview with Carrie Lam str.sg/carrielam