During a tea break with the media last week, Nicholas Yang, the newly appointed chief of the Innovation and Technology Bureau, accused Uber of not cooperating with the Hong Kong government.
By contrast, it was showing more cooperation with the authorities in Singapore, he said.
Yang said that’s exactly the reason Hong Kong is getting tough with the car-hailing service that has taken the rest of the world by storm.
Uber poses a direct challenge to a core value — rule of law — and that the government should not allow anyone to flout it even as it considers possible changes, he said.
I am not sure how Uber is cooperating with the Singapore government, or whether it even respects the transport authorities there.
But I know that Singapore has changed the law twice this year to accommodate mobile app-based taxi booking service providers like Uber.
What has our government done besides raiding Uber’s head office in August and arresting some drivers at the request of taxi unions?
Has this government done anything to create a technology-friendly environment that enables new tech companies from around the world to explore opportunities in Hong Kong?
To make matters worse, our government refuses to discuss any possibility of changing the regulatory framework to allow private fleet vehicles to offer general passenger transport services.
Instead of trying to work out a feasible solution for the increasingly popular online cab-hailing service, the administration is proposing an outdated idea — luxury taxis.
In a recent consultation paper, the government described it as the “future of transport services”. It said the plan will take two to three years to get up and running.
But what will the technology world look like in three years?
The government’s rigid and bureaucratic approach to Uber is sending a message to the world that innovation and new technology are not welcome in Hong Kong.
It shows Hong Kong will have nothing to do with anything that threatens vested interests and entails any law change.
Global tech companies that see tremendous opportunities in Hong Kong and are a potential source of new jobs will have second thoughts about coming to Hong Kong.
It’s mind-boggling that Yang has accused Uber of breaking the law when all this time, no charges have been laid against the company.
So exactly which law has Uber broken?
Shouldn’t the government clearly state the legal grounds for cracking down on the company?
It should tell Hong Kong people why they are being denied a form of transport service many of them happen to like.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 28.
Translation by Alan Lee