Hong Kong hopes to trawl the world for tech talent to build IT city

Wanted: AI experts, data scientists, fintech folk, willing to work in the shadow of repressive regime

Hong Kong has decided it wants to become a technology hub again, and has unveiled plans to "trawl" the world for talent to make it happen.

The Special Administrative Region's plan was outlined yesterday in a speech by John Lee, who was elected chief executive of Hong Kong in May.

Lee was the only candidate, but had the blessing of Beijing. That carries enormous weight in Hong Kong politics since China moved in the late 2010s to reduce autonomy and outlaw opposition parties. Those actions were seen as contrary to the agreement Beijing struck before the 1997 handover of the territory from Britain: to allow a high degree of autonomy for 50 years.

China's government is unrepentant on the matter, and its position is that the "One Country, Two Systems" plan it devised to let Hong Kong enjoy limited independence remains in place.

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Lee's speech addressed that matter. The chief executive declared that "The more firmly the 'One Country' principle is upheld, the greater strength the 'Two Systems' will be unleashed." Well. OK then.

The chief executive intends to use what he called Hong Kong's "distinctive advantages of enjoying strong support of the Motherland and being closely connected to the world" to attract strategic enterprises in the fields of "life and health technology, artificial intelligence and data science, financial technology, and advanced manufacturing and new energy technology."

Lee added that Hong Kong's government will "proactively trawl the world for talents" with a visa that targets those who have graduated from the world's top 100 universities or already earn salaries over $315,000.

A scheme that requires Hong Kong businesses to match jobs given to imported workers with roles for locals will be lifted, which will make hiring people from abroad easier. Work visas for mainland Chinese with desirable skills will be streamlined.

Workers who come to Hong Kong from overseas to work will also be spared stamp duty on property purchases.

Plenty of those jobs and properties will be in a "Northern Metropolis" Lee plans to build and has labelled "a new international I&T city". The site of the Metropolis abuts the Sham Chun River that serves as the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. The city of Shenzhen occupies the northern bank.

Lee envisions the Metropolis as integrating with Shenzhen's electronics manufacturing hub to the mutual benefit of both cities.

The Metropolis will also include many new housing projects – addressing a shortage in Hong Kong.

Another housing-related initiative Lee announced is a minimum size of 26 square meters for subsidized apartments. That's a very modestly sized dwelling by global standards, but an increase on Hong Kong's norms.

We mention that as one indicator of the lifestyle Hong Kong offers its citizens and the skilled tech workers Lee hopes to lure. the Special Administrative Region is infamously crowded and house sizes small, with bigger digs attracting head-spinning prices (often for apartments at head-spinning heights).

So there you have it, reader: Hong Kong wants you. Life in the shadow of China and a very bustling city await those of you bold enough to seize the opportunity. ®

Bootnote

Hong Kong's chief exec has competition for mainland talent – China's Ministry for IT this week outlined its plans to grow the local IT workforce. Boot camps, online learning, mentoring, and acknowledgement of top talent's achievements have all been suggested as tactics State and City governments should adopt.

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