20th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong is over.” This damning pronouncement by economist Stephen Roach in the Financial Times sparked dismay about the city’s future. HOwever, obituaries for Hong Kong are recurrent yet invariably premature. Its storied history reveals a dynamic city adept at revival against the odds. While the old economic playbook may have expired, doom-mongering neglects Hong Kong’s strengths and potential ahead.

Roach’s eulogy echoes a familiar dirge of despair that has accompanied Hong Kong through past upheavals. During the 1997 handover, prophecies abounded of decline with the end of British rule. The subsequent decades proved the opposite, as the city powered China’s stratospheric rise. From the ravages of SARS to protests and the COVID pandemic, Hong Kong has repeatedly defied naysayers. Its resilience stems from pragmatism, versatility and openness. The city has weathered episodic crises by reinventing itself, emerging stronger each time.

Today’s mix of political, economic and geopolitical headwinds is undoubtedly challenging. But writing Hong Kong’s obituary is not only premature but fails to account for its capacity for renewal.

In declaring “the end of Hong Kong”, Roach cites an underperforming stock market and political uncertainties. Yet equities reveal only part of the picture. The city remains a launchpad for global access to China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Despite global market turmoil, Hong Kong raised over US$500 billion through bond issuances last year, buoyed by China linkage. It also retains its stature as the premier offshore renminbi hub. And the Hong Kong Stock Exchange continues to lead globally in IPOs, especially for innovative Chinese firms. This central role in connecting international business with China will only grow as Beijing pivots its economy towards technology and innovation. Here, Hong Kong’s financial and professional services expertise is well-poised to capitalize on emerging sectors.

On political stability after the National Security Law’s implementation, reasonable minds may differ on the trade-offs. But investor confidence remains robust, given Hong Kong’s enduring strengths: rule of law, business-friendly policies, clean government, low taxes and strategic location.

In truth, predictions of Hong Kong’s demise reveal an attachment to its glory days as a real estate and trading hub. But the city was always shaped by adaptability, constantly modernising its capabilities throughout history. Equating its self-worth with past success risks missing how Hong Kong still leads across financial services from insurance to asset management.

Moreover, the city has deftly aligned itself with China’s priorities, from tech innovation to the Greater Bay Area integration. Pessimists overlook Hong Kong’s efforts in sustainable finance, biotech research and fostering Chinese unicorn startups.

During past tribulations, Hong Kong not only endured but discovered new strengths. The 2008 Global Financial Crisis birthed Hong Kong’s formidable anti-money laundering system, making it a paragon of integrity that meets the highest international compliance standards. Meanwhile, the social unrest and COVID-19 disruptions accelerated digitalisation across finance, government services, retail and logistics. Coming out of the pandemic, Hong Kong boasts world-class digital connectivity and pandemic resilience planning.

Critically, the city retains core freedoms that undergird its dynamism, from information access to travel. Unfettered flows of people, knowledge and ideas will continue driving entrepreneurship.

Hong Kong must solve deep societal fissures around inequality and unaffordability that partly fueled recent upheaval. But its pragmatic governance has shown responsiveness on concrete concerns. For instance, the administration is addressing the shortage of housing supply with steady releases of land plots.

Fortuitously, external pressures are easing as geopolitical tensions moderate. With mainland China pivoting towards stability after its 20th Party Congress, Hong Kong can focus on economic revitalization. Its prospects are buoyed by China’s loosening of travel restrictions, portending tourism resurgence.

In closing the book on Hong Kong, naysayers reveal an inability to envision its next chapter. However, the city’s inherent strengths remain undimmed. Its indelible advantages—strategic location, world-class infrastructure, low taxes, and legal system—still make Hong Kong a magnet for global business. With imagination and initiative, Hong Kong is poised to reinvent itself again. New avenues of growth await in biotech, green finance and technology. The city still offers unparalleled connections into Chinese consumer and financial markets. Critically, its embrace of openness fosters vibrancy and resilience.

Observers entranced by Hong Kong’s past glories fail to grasp its enduring essence of adaptability. The city’s history lies not in clinging to formulas for yesterday’s success but daring continually to reimagine tomorrow. Reports of Hong Kong’s demise are not just premature, but ignore its phoenix-like ability to resurrect and thrive after every crisis. As pessimists lament the end of an era, Hong Kong stands ready to soar again.