Dr Eugene Chan (right) hosts Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu for TVB’s Straight Talk show on Oct 25, 2022. (PHOTO COURTESY OF EUGENE CHAN)

After presenting his Policy Address, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu is on the show, to talk about the importance of leading Hong Kong people to "a brighter tomorrow".

Lee says attracting talent is not a short-term issue, but rather keeping them here for the future development of Hong Kong. He says Hong Kong is "attractive" and not "boring". He also welcomes people with any idea to shorten the time required to build public housing.

Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr Eugene Chan’s interview with CE John Lee.

Chan: Good evening. This is Eugene Chan. And I have the great pleasure of hosting this 400th show of Straight Talk. We have a new background and music theme to mark this milestone. But more importantly, our chief executive, John Lee, is marking the start of a new chapter for Hong Kong with his maiden Policy Address. I'm sure many viewers are looking forward to him sharing this with us this evening. Welcome, CE!

CE: Eugene, thank you for having me here.

Chan: Right. CE, your maiden Policy Address last Wednesday, has certainly reassured Hong Kong people that your first 100 days is definitely hard work. I believe you took a record of two hours 45 minutes to deliver it in 150 paragraphs and 84 pages with  nearly 600 initiatives in social, political and economics and try to improve the people's livelihood in Hong Kong, and, of course, the economy, and has been endorsed by the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (of the State Council) for truly and accurately implementing the 'one country, two systems' policy, as well as the Liaison Office (of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region), saying that you have followed the guidance of four musts and four points of hope proposed by President Xi Jinping when he was here in July. Many have said your initiatives are groundbreaking and innovative. And you have tried to solve our long-standing problems of housing shortage and manpower crunch and you have over 110 key performance indicators. So, the title of your Policy Address is to build a better tomorrow for Hong Kong. And one issue that we have talked about in Straight Talk recently is about the manpower crunch. And you talk about grabbing and trawling our talents. Can you tell us, I mean, what sort of unconventional measures you have tried to put in the policy of Hong Kong so that we get more talents coming to Hong Kong?

CE: Well, there are quite a few. But before I go into the details, I must first of all thank for the opinions that have been offered to me during the consultation process and also the unity and the commitment of my team. The Policy Address is the product of teamwork. So, I thank each one of my colleagues for being so committed, hardworking and innovative. As you have described, there are some groundbreaking attempts, there are untraditional moves that we have decided to take. For example, we have created a Hong Kong Investment Corporation Limited. The purpose of this is to indicate that from now on, we have a policy of fostering, helping industries which we consider are of strategic or important values to the overdevelopment of Hong Kong. Why is this important? Because I intend to get the most benefits in the shortest period of time for Hong Kong. That means things should be focused, that means things should be done, so as to achieve the best result using the minimum time and the minimum resources. So, that's number one. The second thing is we are very proactive now. We go out, knock on people's doors, invite them to come, tell them how attractive, how many opportunities Hong Kong is available to you. We have been attractive for long, pre-COVID, three years ago, even when the government at that time even had to think of ways to lay down quite strict measures, such as you can't stay in Hong Kong longer than a year after you have graduated because, well, we have to control the number of people. So, we were like that. Now, we decide that we have to be very active. So, we went out. We knock on people's doors. So, outside Hong Kong we have offices in which we will have teams that will go out proactively to tell people and in Hong Kong we will have a talent service unit to also give help and also designed tailor-made plans for some talents and also some enterprises, which we think are of significant importance, significant contribution to Hong Kong.

Chan: Right, CE. I think all the viewers and I, we feel that your passion to try to attract the talents to come to Hong Kong. But I mean the last few shows we have been talking about … we have firms and expatriates leaving Hong Kong. And one of the main reasons is about our anti-epidemic measures. So, now we are … since your short-term government, we are now having “0+3”, which gives me an opportunity to go out last weekend, and I really enjoyed coming back. However, for a lot of overseas people, if they do get positive, they will be kind of stuck here for seven days. So, would that be attractive to people to come to, at least come have a look at Hong Kong?

CE: This is only a very short term view. For anybody who really signed to come to Hong Kong and settle, which is my aim, they don't look at three months, or six months, they look at really long term. These anti-COVID measures … of course, now we have a difference with other places. But my direction has been very clear that the goal has been set. But it's a matter of time when we will reach that goal. I think I've said that many times. So, there's a roadmap. But present signs, unfortunately, cannot have very precise predictions as what risk may happen at what time, how big that risk can be. So, I have to design my whole strategy so that I don't roll back, because I want the message to be very clear. And I hope I will reinforce that by telling you now and telling everybody that the direction is very clear. We are heading north, we're heading south, very clear. Only one direction. Okay. The second thing is, when people think of coming to Hong Kong, they don't think of just coming here for six months. They think of developing here, having opportunities here, allowing them to realize their dreams, they want their families to come here as well. All the measures are designed for that. And I do believe that people who want to come to Hong Kong, are looking at Hong Kong as a place where they will realize their dreams. And they of course know very well that dreams won't be realized within three months. 

There are a lot of attractions in Hong Kong. We used to be very attractive, and we will continue to be like that because these attractive elements are inside of us. This is Hong Kong's DNA. Plus, we are adding new nutrition, fresh shares. We have made the very clear position of eight centers stationed at this strategic location to attract people to the financial center, trading and shipping center. I don't have to mention that. More importantly, the new fresh air, the new soil, IT center, IT hub. IT is the future of Hong Kong, everybody knows it. Without IT, you are doomed to fail. So, we are heading in that direction. And it's very clear that quality of life will be improved, because Hong Kong will become what? Cultural and arts exchange center. Melting pot of all cultures. Lovely place, full of vibrance. Do you want to live in a boring place where after eight o'clock you don't know where to go? Of course you love Hong Kong, right?

Hong Kong is the place to be, the place to come, the place to live, the place to work, says John Lee. (PHOTO COURTESY OF EUGENE CHAN)

Chan: See, I fully agree with what you said. I'm sure the viewers would agree. However, if you look at other cities, other places and the rest of the world right now. Basically, their anti-epidemic measures are basically zero. So, people are starting to get back to normal lives and all that. And once they settle, sometimes it is very hard for them to pull out, pick up suitcases and come to Hong Kong again. So what will you do in the short term to tell the people such a good story that you're making right now?

CE: Well, obviously, I know the importance of making people realize that Hong Kong is the place to be, the place to come, the place to live, the place to work. That is why I'm making tailor-made plans for activities to happen in Hong Kong, even though we haven't reached the final goal yet. So, we will have big events such as the Financial Leaders Summit. We have the Rugby 7s and we have a lot of significant international events happening in Hong Kong.

Chan: Right. So, in other words, in your Policy Address, you think you have done a lot there to push our city's competitiveness?

CE: Absolutely. And of course, there will be more … more by those involved in the exercise. Oh, it relies on you, me, my officials, everybody of Hong Kong to go on and tell the world because it's a matter of telling people the real good story of Hong Kong, and that will make people know that… okay, I realize you're that attractive. And also I've added new elements. It's not just asking you to go out. For example, in attracting talents, I have created new measures, new systems. So those who are the top 100 university graduates, they can come any time, alright, provided they have working experience, and also the top earners, those who earn 2.5 million a year, they come any time. But at the same time, I'm protecting the local employment. So, I have measures to ensure that some quota is put in some areas, and also I ensure that a review will be done one year after the new measures, so that I can be sure that the right balance is attained. And also, I can make adjustments so as to make it even more attractive, and also to control the balance in a way that will be in favor of Hong Kong's real situation.

Chan: Right. CE, just now, earlier in the show, you mentioned the Hong Kong Investment Corporation Limited, that's what you refer to. So, can you tell us what is the rationale behind it because the Hong Kong government has always been trying not to interfere with the market? They let the market forces at play? So, is this some form of sort of Temasek from Singapore that they used to do? Is it similar to that?

CE: Well, my intention of setting up this fund is twofold. First of all, it is to tell everybody that this is a government which will lead, I think that is a very important message. First, we will lead in areas we believe will be of benefit to Hong Kong. We are not a laissez-faire, sit-back government. And the second thing is we have a policy for helping some industries. That is also important. That is to let people know where they can capitalize on the opportunities offered by Hong Kong. IT is the area I've told them that. Not just IT. What I intend to attract are the leading performers in their respective field. So, if in the electronics field, you are one of the top, say 50, and of course, we'll be happy to invite you here to tailor-make special plans for you. The intention and purpose is to let people know that Hong Kong is the place to be, the place to develop.

Chan: Right, CE, we have to take a break now. But viewers, please stay with us. And we'll be right back. 

Chan: Welcome back! Our Chief Executive John Lee has been sharing his new vision for Hong Kong, and how his administration will deliver a brighter tomorrow for our city. So, CE, in the first part we talked about your desire to draw talents and you feel Hong Kong has a great story to tell. Let's move onto an area that everybody has been wondering and has been haunting Hong Kong for decades – it’s the housing issue. Some say your initiatives are innovative and ground-breaking. Again, especially now, I am referring to the novel Light Public Housing scheme. Since not many viewers are fully familiar with it, maybe you can tell us what exactly it is and what the advantages are, compared to, say, the transition housing.

CE: The main aim of this Light Public Housing is to fill the gap, because at the present moment, despite the fact that we have sufficient land to build our predicted number of public housing, the distribution is uneven. The first 5-years is only 1/3, then the second 5-years is 2/3. In other words, the second 5-years can produce almost doubly as the first 5 years. So, theoretically, this demand will be met in 10 years. But that means those in the first 5-years have to wait for a long time. The longer has been 6 years, which is undesirable. In my manifesto, I said that I need to find a way to allow them to move up the public housing as soon as possible. This is the initial idea, and I thank my team sincerely when I was in office and I proposed, and they said okay. Moving it forward for them to move in, so that before there are full facilities, yes, it is possible, but we may be only do about 12,000 because, realistically, all the work has started. So, the building plan has been fixed. Even with made adjustments, the most we can do is 12,000. And they can only benefit by shortening, perhaps, 3 months to 18 months. I said that is still good, but I want it even more, I want to do more. Come on, they are all waiting there for such a long time and the condition has been so bad. And I was there seeing them, so I was so determined. 

And I think my office, they really went all the way, all the possibility. And they had this idea of…first of all, finding the land, ensuring all the building processes will speed up, maintaining a good standard, which is far better than all these undesirable conditions, and also to make it a very livable place, at least relative to the public housing. So, the idea then comes is using MICs, which are modular integrated construction. It has been used before in some of our discipline service quarters, and those occupants, they clapped their hands because that standard is good. So, the idea is we find temporary size, but these temporary size should allow generally the occupants to use, to live safely for 5 years. Why 5 years? Because 5 years is the dividing line between the first 5 years and the second 5 years. The second 5 years will be able to double the production. So, we want them to be usable for 5 years, so that the occupants won’t have to move again because then the supply will be double. That is the idea. And also it is not just fast, we are in control. Though usually it takes about 4 years to build a public housing estate, it will probably take us half the time. So, we can produce quite confidently in 2 years’ time the first sites for Light Public Housing.

Chan: Since it’s so encouraging, have you considered even planning more sites? I mean if it is 3-4 times what we have, then a lot of problems will be solved.

CE: Sure! We haven’t stopped at this. But that is something we are very confident of doing. And we're telling people that, well, at least that's the goal I have set for my government. That means you can reduce from 6 years to 4.5.

Chan: Right.

CE: So, it’s 1.5 year shorter. To them, 1.5 days shorter is already a very good thing.

Chan: Right. CE, 1.5 years actually is 1/4 of the 6 years…it is quite a great amount. Are you confident this will be delivered?

CE: I am confident because I have told you what we are doing, and this is fact. It is all facts because we have already identified quite a few sites, which belong to the government, waiting to be developed. So that sites will allow us to use probably for 3-5, or even longer years, depending on particular location. And of course, I will be inviting assistance from private developers, if they are willing to help society. I think a lot of them have a lot of social responsibilities. So, maybe I get assistance from private developers, who will lend the sites to us, then of course we can build more. 

Chan: Right.

CE: But I am very confident we can produce 30,000 within 5 years.

Chan: Right. CE, also you know that in Hong Kong, we have over 600,000 owners of private housing, and the market recently has softened because of possible increased interest rates, downturn in economy. And we know that we need a healthy housing market to sustain our economy. But in your manifesto, or on your Policy Address, you will be also increasing housing for the private sector as well, for next 5 years. Will this put at the pressure onto the housing market? That means we won't have a stable environment for everybody to live in Hong Kong?

CE: Well, the policies for private housing is to have a steady supply. Have a supply which will ensure there will be sufficient for people to take up. We have already got sufficient land – more than this predicted demand. So, the supply is in the control of the government. But we want the supplies to be steady because I fully appreciate that prices for housing, they are sensitive subject. But what the government needs to do is to ensure that will not be very big frustrations because anything that is of a big scale, then people can’t plan.

Chan: Yes.

CE: And then it gets out of their comfortable margin or safety margin.

Chan: CE, I hear that your plan is to have sort of a minimal fluctuation for a steady private housing market if you wish…

CE: Well, I want to have a steady supply, so people know where they are, they can plan. I think that is important, that is for buyers to plan, for developers to plan. And then that is important. They know that there will be this supply, and we will make it transparent. And that is what we want to do.

Chan: Right. The reason why I bring it up is for so many years, people were haunted by the negative equity issue that we had before. So, that is the reason why people know when you come here, they want me to ask you to making sure your policy is going to be a healthy, sort of a predictable environment.

CE: We are monitoring the situation very closely, daily.

Chan: Good.

CE: And we know how important this issue is to different sectors of the community. For those who own property, for those who are waiting to own property, for those who want to invest, for those who really have a need to live. So, we know the importance. Financial Secretary and I are watching it closely every day. 

Chan: CE, you also…your Policy Address also focuses on the development of the emerging industries, and you are setting up a 10 billion Research, Academic and Industry Sectors One plus Scheme. What exactly is that? I mean how is that going to help the emerging industries? 

CE: That is really to build a very healthy and complete ecosystem for IT development. Hong Kong has been very good on basic research, and the success has been rated outstanding, at least 70 percent fit that category. So, we have very strong basic research because we have very good universities, we have very good research experts. But it is also very important to ensure that the research product really becomes a prototype, that can eventually be used in the market, so as to create a whole chain of production for the product. This is how you develop IT because what we want is to be able to lead people to have innovative projects that eventually will materialize in something concrete for society, for everybody to enjoy. So, the research people will be happy, our capability in this area will be strong, and there is a marketization, commercialization process for it. And that will mean a lot of good things to Hong Kong because it will mean jobs, it will mean this whole ecosystem being so healthy, that this industry will be very prosperous, attracting talents and attracting new enterprises.

Chan: Right. CE, I am going to ask you the last question. In the last few years, you know a lot of people have left Hong Kong because of various reasons, and hopefully they will come back one day. However the society is kind of divided at the moment. And you being somebody who have worked with the disciplinary forces, you have been with the government, now being CE. What will be your plans? How are you going to unite all of us together to help you, so that we can deliver such a good Policy Address, so Hong Kong people can be very happy?

CE: Share one single mission, make Hong Kong the home we all love. That means we may have disagreements, differences, but focus on what we agree commonly. That is for the overall good of Hong Kong, for the overall good of the family.

Chan: Right. Thank you, John Lee, for sharing your Policy Address with our viewers. I am sure we all look forward to seeing your policies come to fruition in the near future. We hope the new government continues to guide and support the wider community, to start a new and bright chapter for Hong Kong. Have a pleasant evening, and goodnight!