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Saturday, Jan 23, 2021

Hong Kong, facing an ageing society and brain drain, must act now to retain talent

Hong Kong low fertility rate, declining inward migration and increasing outflow, and ageing society do not bode well for the city’s future. The government must make nurturing and attracting talent a priority

The latest population figures released by the Census and Statistics Department should serve as a wake-up call for the Hong Kong’s administration.

The provisional estimate of the Hong Kong population was 7,509,200 in mid-2020, which is only 1,800 more than the estimate in mid-2019. Population increase comprises three components: number of deaths, number of births and the net movement of Hong Kong residents (inflow less outflow).

The number of births is 49,500, with an estimated total fertility rate of 1.05, which is well below the replacement level of 2.1, the number of children each woman needs to give birth to for a population to replace itself. The number of deaths was 48,900, and is expected to increase further in a rapidly ageing society. The natural increase of the population (birth less death) was 600.

It is clear that the number of deaths will outnumber births next year or in the very near future if the fertility rate remains so low. Hong Kong will enter a depopulation stage without enough migration, akin to what Japan has been experiencing since 2000.

Due to the social unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic, only 22,100 one-way permit holders entered Hong Kong so far this year compared with 44,400 in the same period last year, a 50.2 per cent drop. Furthermore, 20,900 people left Hong Kong.

While the number of Hong Kong residents leaving the city has been increasing, the administration has not done much about this. On average, the quality of people emigrating is better than those moving into Hong Kong. Thus, we are facing both a rapidly ageing society together with a brain drain, which will have a long-lasting adverse impact.

According to United Nations standards, Hong Kong is an ageing society as nearly 18 per cent of the population are aged 65 or above, according to a report in 2019. Although this group of people is not economically active, they are more healthy and wealthy than their predecessors. Maintaining a high quality of life after retirement would still be difficult due to relatively high cost of living in Hong Kong.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a large number of the deaths in Hong Kong have been older adults living in elderly homes, clearly a sign that we must help this vulnerable group in our community. Lack of living space and quality care are the two big challenges when dealing with fragile older adults.

For the brain drain, we need talented people to keep Hong Kong competitive. In fact, these young professionals are also much in demand in other countries. In response to the recently enacted national security law, at least two countries are making it easier for Hong Kong residents to migrate there. More people are expected to emigrate next year. The Hong Kong government must improve the city’s attractiveness so as to both retain and attract talent.

The famous push-and-pull theory of migration is very relevant to Hong Kong.

How the national security law will be implemented has aroused considerable concern among Hongkongers. While national security is important and should be reinforced, the rule of law, judicial independence and freedom of speech are the pillars of Hong Kong’s success.

Indeed, we are part of China and should fully acknowledge this, but it is also important to retain our identify and uniqueness so that they can better serve Hong Kong and the country. Hong Kong being just another Chinese city doesn’t add much value to China’s development. We are different and we want to do better to serve the country.

It is disappointing that the government has failed to connect with the community and give us hope for the future. The government has failed to give young people, who are the future of Hong Kong, a stake in society. We cannot simply do away with them. If any government ignores its people, its other efforts will be in vain. Hong Kong has no time to waste.

It is disheartening to witness developments in Hong Kong during the social unrest. Both the police and protesters were put in a difficult situation. In a recent court case, a District Court judge reprimanded the police officers for lying in their testimony. I still believe most police and Hongkongers are good people, and that the government’s mishandling of the situation put all of us in such a difficult situation.

Any responsible government must do its best to nurture the next generation, providing them with the necessary education, training and opportunities to develop their skills. We need to incentivise them to stay. Retaining and attracting talent is the most important component of Hong Kong’s survival. We cannot do this if we have a very polarised society.

The government needs to develop an empathetic attitude when formulating policies. Our chief executive should learn to listen to those who have different views, as this would definitely improve her governance.


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