A tale of two cities: Why S'pore outdoes HK

CLOUDY FUTURE: Hong Kong could learn a thing or two from its once-competitor Singapore, which has pulled ahead on the strengths of its government, support of innovative technology and pragmatic thinking.


    Aug 30, 2016

    A tale of two cities: Why S'pore outdoes HK

    WHAT are the instructions of the Singapore model for Hong Kong? Why has Singapore made it but not Hong Kong?

    The once-very-popular proposition called "Tale of the Two Cities" has long become banal and even outdated.

    Since Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, the two cities have been going on increasingly different paths while directly comparable similarities have become fewer and fewer.

    Recently, swimmer Joseph Schooling beat the United States' Flying Fish Michael Phelps in Rio de Janeiro, winning the first Olympic gold medal for the Lion City.

    To those sensitive Hong Kongers who have a strong sense of pride, that is not a gentle reminder.

    Singapore has done many things right, resulting in its old rival Hong Kong falling far behind.

    The things Singapore have done right are worth learning or even reflecting on by Hong Kongers.

    But these have nothing to do with Schooling.

    Remember that in 1996, windsurfer Lee Lai Shan had already won a historic Olympic gold for Hong Kong - a full 20 years before Singapore.

    However, this glorious victory turned out to be a fading glow as the sun set on Hong Kong, for what came after has been all the way downhill for the city.


    Singapore's situation is very different, as snatching an Olympic gold is but just one new chapter in its success story.

    One reason that I dare say so is that I have confidence in the Government of Singapore.

    And what it is strong in are exactly what the Hong Kong government is weak in.

    Let's begin with their visions.

    The Singapore Government uses "big-picture thinking" to position its country in Asia and the world, and maps out development direction and overall planning.

    The over-cautious and conservative Hong Kong government, which uses a reactive approach to solve problems, is far from comparable.

    Take, for example, the development of innovative technology.

    Singapore set up the National Research Foundation in 2009 to give support to new technological fields.

    In contrast, the Hong Kong government is indecisive, leading to a brain drain to Nanshan in Shenzhen and other technological centres of the world.

    In addition, Singapore adopted the "regulatory sandbox" practice to allow new companies to test out their innovative services within certain parameters, beyond the restrictions of the country's law.

    Here in Hong Kong, the policies concerned are based on "risk calculation", which is not conducive to the growth of innovative technologies.

    Next, the quality of the civil servants of the two places.

    The Singapore Government attracts the best talent, and its civil servants serve the country with pride, instead of working with a bureaucratic mentality.

    As a matter of fact, Hong Kong's civil service has a reputation for excellence.

    But corruption scandals came one after another in recent years, with a former chief secretary put in jail and a former chief executive facing criminal indictment.

    No wonder Singapore now ranks so much higher than Hong Kong in the Global Corruption Perceptions Index.

    However, the above do not fully explain the ascent of one and the decline of the other in recent years.


    Singapore's success lies in its not being controlled and manipulated by ideologies, as its people and their rulers handle problems and meet challenges with a pragmatic and result-oriented attitude and do not indulge in gabbing about "universal values".

    They are contemptuous of utopian thinking that is detached from reality.

    They seek neither "feel-good" moral supremacy nor the heroics of "doing what is known to be impossible".

    But for anything that has a chance of success, they would do their best.

    And if it proves destined for failure, they will dump it like trash and seek something else.

    As a result, "freedom from ideology" in Singapore is just as healthy as MSG-free food or non-alcoholic beverages, bringing about social stability, harmony and high-speed economic growth.

    Such utilitarian and realistic thinking is, of course, also a sort of ideology, and Singapore has never been soft on fighting confrontational and competing ideologies.

    But, in the final analysis, Singapore's ideology is a "useful, beneficial and constructive" kind of ideology - what political philosophers would call "good ideology".

    This was also originally the guiding ideology of our society: Disregard all political disputes and acrimony from the past and single-mindedly pursue economic prosperity and material abundance.

    However, today, the most prominent, dominant and even swaying ideology in Hong Kong is populism plus anti-communism.

    For those extremists and fanatics in the anti-communist camp, fighting communism is not a matter of stance but warfare, and Hong Kong is a battlefield.

    This is a "bad ideology" that would drive Hong Kong to a state of no redemption.

    The writer is a well-known author in

    Hong Kong. This article appeared in the latest edition of the Hong Kong-based Chinese weekly Yazhou Zhoukan, and was translated by My Paper's Larry Teo