Let 2023 be the year in which Hong Kong’s fortunes turn around

After a year of sporting excitement and economic turbulence, Hong Kong is emerging from Covid-19 to fresh possibilities and a long-awaited return to normality.

Just like that, another year has come and gone. 2022 has passed in the blink of an eye and it’s almost time to ring in the new year.

And what a year it’s been! For sports fans, the Fifa World Cup was a highlight, with a projected five billion people globally watching some part of the month-long tournament. The most popular sporting event on the planet saw a host of records broken – from the most goals scored in the tournament, to Lionel Messi breaking 10 World Cup records, including being the first player to score in every round. The final and Argentina’s fairy-tale ending is being described as one of the greatest football matches of all time.

Hong Kong swimming phenomenon Siobhan Haughey made a splash, winning seven gold medals at the Fina Swimming World Cup. She also triumphed at the Fina World Championships with a gold and silver to her name.

Economically, it has been a turbulent year. Tens of trillions of dollars were wiped off the world’s stock markets. Tech stocks were crushed, with Meta Platforms, Peloton and Tesla falling more than 60 per cent.

Inflation in both the United States and the United Kingdom rose to 40-year highs, driven mostly by surging food, gas and energy prices on the back of the Russia-Ukraine war. US interest rates rose to its highest in 15 years as the Federal Reserve targeted inflation, and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority increased its base rate to 4.75 per cent, close to its 15-year high.

Previous Wall Street cryptocurrency darlings experienced a brutal meltdown. The spectacular crash of stablecoin TerraUSD and its sister token Luna, which plunged to near-zero, evaporated about US$45 billion from the market.

The dramatic collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange FTX and subsequent fallout involving cryptocurrency lender BlockFi, bitcoin and ether has shaken the cryptocurrency industry to the core. An estimated US$1.5 trillion in cryptocurrency market capitalisation has been erased, roughly the gross domestic product of Australia or Spain.

In our part of the world, President Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as China’s leader. China adjusted its zero-Covid policy. John Lee Ka-chiu was elected as Hong Kong’s fifth chief executive. Hong Kong celebrated the 25th anniversary of its establishment as a special administrative region.

Hong Kong has not been immune to the year’s economic pain. Its economy is forecast to shrink by 3.2 per cent this year amid Covid-related restrictions, rising interest rates and weak consumption.

Before the stock rally last month, the Hang Seng Index slid to a 13-year low, losing more than a third of its value to become the world’s top index loser. Since then, it has rallied, and returned to being among the world’s best performing indices. If the stock market is any indication, Hong Kong’s fortunes may be turning.

Hong Kong has made huge strides in returning to normality. We transitioned to what is essentially a 0+0 no-quarantine-upon-arrival scheme, removed rapid antigen tests for bars and banquets, and stopped using the “Leave Home Safe” app, among other measures. Hong Kong welcomed back its iconic Sevens rugby tournament for the first time in three years, with tens of thousands of spectators.

We are looking forward to restarting the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker and the showpiece Hong Kong Marathon after an absence of several years. We remain hopeful of a full reopening of the border with the mainland and the rest of the world without restrictions.

As we welcome a new year full of possibilities, I hope that Hong Kong learns from the hiccups that other countries have experienced in reopening. Many countries have struggled with service quality due to low staffing levels and difficulties in rehiring staff who have gone on to other jobs.

After essentially mothballing the tourism industry for three years, we, too, may encounter challenges. We have had a longer time to prepare, so, theoretically, we should be able to cope with a ramp-up in demand for services. I remain optimistic that we can manage any obstacles as we return to normality.

I am very much looking forward to resuming pre-pandemic life. As we look back on the year we are leaving behind, we raise a toast to a better future – here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2023!