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Matthew Brooker

Can Hong Kong Repair Its Battered Image?

It will be difficult to move on if the city maintains its defiant stance at the expense of a genuine course correction.

Hong Kong's chief executive John Lee.

Hong Kong's chief executive John Lee.

Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg

In the eyes of Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee, the city has a publicity problem. It has a great story to tell, and just needs to do a better job of showcasing its achievements to the world. “We should not belittle ourselves,” Lee told lawmakers a few days after taking office last month, saying he planned to send delegations overseas to “convey the truth” about Hong Kong. How’s that going so far? Not smoothly.

Figures released last week showed a 1.6% drop in the population that was the largest in at least six decades, with a decline of 121,500 residents in the year ended June 30. A government commentary accompanying the data pointed to a number of factors, including a plunge in the number of births, an increase in deaths, the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated impact of stringent border control and quarantine requirements. One element it didn’t mention: the national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in mid-2020. That’s a striking omission, considering that 113,742 Hong Kongers were granted visas to enter the UK alone under the British Nationals (Overseas) scheme between January 2021 and late May this year — a program that was explicitly linked to the passage of the security law.