While in Hong Kong this past week, it appeared that there were only three stories that the newspapers wanted to cover. Quite clearly, the first and by far the most important was Super Typhoon Mangkhut which made landfall the day after I headed out. It was forecasted to be the worst storm to hit the colony in recorded history, graded a level T10 which is the highest possible level. And it did not disappoint.
Growing up in Hong Kong, I had become somewhat accustom to significant tropical storms battering the island. In fact, Hong Kong has become quite resilient to these storms, and as devastating as Mangkhut was, there was very modest loss of life (initial counts point to less than five fatalities in Hong Kong, although there was significant carnage in the Philippines). All the focus on the typhoon underscored how impressive the Hong Kong healthcare system is but also was a jarring metaphor for its current economic condition as it is further absorbed into China.
The quality of healthcare in Hong Kong is surprisingly exceptional. There are 11 private and 42 public hospitals for a population of 7.3 million people. There are 1.7 doctors for every 1,000 residents so relatively rapid access to care is assured. Fortunately, there are also 6,000 practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. This week there was great fanfare around the “Tap the Hidden, Tap Your Talent” collaboration by many of the public hospitals to provide more aggressive outreach programs to address mental illness in the community.
In fact, Hong Kong is considered one of the healthiest places in the world, with average life expectancies of 85.9 years (women) and 80.0 years (men) putting it third in the world according to the World Health Organization. Interestingly, greater China has average life expectancy of 76.4 years. Infant mortality in Hong Kong ranks ninth in the world with 2.73 deaths per 1,000 births. Perhaps more ominous is that 18% of the population is now over 65 years old. And these results have been achieved quite efficiently; total healthcare expenditures are approximately $17.5 billion or 6.0% of GDP.
Unfortunately, this past week also witnessed the Hang Seng stock index entering “bear market” territory as it is now more than 20% off trading levels at the beginning of this year. The Hang Seng has a total market capitalization of $2.1 trillion and is comprised of 50 large cap stocks, just over half of which are Mainland Chinese companies. Tencent alone has lost $200 billion of market value since its January 2018 highs. Trade tensions with the U.S. have a direct impact on local business sentiment as does the strong U.S. dollar. Notwithstanding the numerous full-page financing tombstones in the business press, Hong Kong is tragically on a path to be further marginalized on the global stage as China aggressively develops other economic centers.
One of the other stories which captured a number of headlines was the disappearance of China’s most famous and wealthy actress, Fan Bingbing. She has not been seen for three months now, right after she was accused of tax evasion. The release this week of a state-sponsored study on social responsibility for the top 100 performers in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan did not help as it had her last with a total score of zero out of a possible 100. Evidently, not being socially responsible can be bad for one’s health. Undoubtedly, not paying one’s taxes is also unhealthy.
The other story that fascinated many this week in Hong Kong was the murder trial of Professor Khaw Kim Sun who stands accused of filling something called a yoga ball with carbon monoxide and placing it in his estranged, now dead wife’s car. The good professor was an anesthesiologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital and claimed that he was stockpiling the poisonous gas to eradicate rats in his home. Quite clearly, he would have benefitted immensely from tapping his hidden talents in that community outreach program.