Hong Kong's lost decade, as shown by global surveys

City slides in international rankings but improves showing as global financial centre

HONG KONG • What's ailing Hong Kong?

The Chinese enclave, long a favourite of the financial expatriate crowd for its low taxes, accessible beaches and vibrant nightlife, has seen its ranking slide across an array of international surveys in the past decade - from the competitiveness of its airport to that of its best university.

Singapore, which vies with Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Shanghai for supremacy among Asia's financial centres, has held up somewhat better while also suffering in some areas.

Hong Kong's slumping ratings come at an awkward time for the city, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

A little over two decades later, closer ties with an increasingly assertive Beijing are raising difficult questions about everything from the independence of its judicial system to free speech.

Analysts, industry professionals and lawmakers have attributed Hong Kong's declines in some areas to everything from lacking investment in higher education to the erosion of the "one country, two systems" principle that has governed the city since its return to China, and a general sense of complacency brought about by the economic benefits from its ties to the mainland.

To gauge how Hong Kong's position has evolved, Bloomberg News tallied up 12 international surveys that have been published annually or biannually for at least six years, where No. 1 is the best ranking.

Bloomberg News used data from 2008 and 2018, except for the categories of Rule of Law, Top City Destination, for which most recent data available were from last year, and International Logistics and Happiness Index, for which the earliest available data were from 2007 and 2012 respectively.

The Bloomberg comparison showed Singapore overtaking Hong Kong in areas such as expatriates' satisfaction with their life in the respective city, a world university ranking and customers' satisfaction with Hong Kong International Airport and Singapore Changi Airport.

Between 2008 and 2018, Singapore has widened its lead in innovation based on the Global Innovation Index. Singapore retained its fifth spot in the ranking, whereas Hong Kong dipped from the 12th to the 14th spot.

But it is not all doom and gloom for Hong Kong: Four of the surveys cited by Bloomberg show Hong Kong gaining ground on competing destinations.

 
 

Hong Kong improved its ranking as a Top City Destination, jumping from the ninth spot in 2008 to the first spot last year. Singapore's remained at the fourth position in the same survey.

Hong Kong also improved its showing as a global financial centre, climbing one spot from the fourth spot in 2008 to the third spot this year, whereas Singapore slipped from the third position in 2008 to the fourth this year.

Companies raised US$36 billion (S$49.5 billion) in first-time share sales in Hong Kong this year, more than anywhere else, helping the city edge up in a ranking of global financial centres.

A notable area of concern for Hong Kong is education, with the city's premier university being overtaken by that of Singapore in global rankings.

"Investment in higher education isn't diverse enough. It's too focused on business and financial management, and not on other subjects," said Mr Thomas Chan, director of the One Belt, One Road Institute in Hong Kong.

In terms of happiness, both cities lag far behind the Nordic nations, which have some of the most contented populations.

Hong Kong's ranking on the Happiness Index dropped from 67 in 2012 to 76 this year. Singapore's ranking on the same index dipped from 33rd in 2012 to 34th position in 2018. BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 23, 2018, with the headline 'Hong Kong's lost decade, as shown by global surveys'. Print Edition | Subscribe