Hong Kong’s economic development is lagging behind mainland China in much the same way as the “outdated” Octopus payment system trails behind Alipay and WeChat Wallet, said a commentary in People’s Daily published on October 1.

“The ‘Octopus-style crisis’ is a microcosm of Hong Kong society,” the Communist Party mouthpiece warns, adding that Hong Kong risks losing its global competitiveness if it does not change its industrial structure and catch up with technological development soon.

Photo: HKFP.

Octopus is an electronic payment system widely used in Hong Kong’s public transportation and convenience stores which was introduced in 1997.

The commentary, titled ‘Hong Kong’s ‘Octopus-style’ crisis awakes who?’ was written by Johnny Ng Kit-chong, a digital entrepreneur and executive vice chairman of the Hong Kong United Youth Association.

Ng said the Octopus card used to be a leading electronic payment system which had failed to progress over the years.

“18 years have passed, Octopus is actually falling far behind other advanced electronic payment systems in the world, such as Alipay and WeChat Wallet from the mainland,” Ng wrote.

The commentary in People’s Daily. Photo: people.com.cn.

Alipay and WeChat Wallet are online payment systems developed by Chinese internet giants Alibaba and Tencent respectively.

In recent years, Alipay and WeChat Wallet have expanded beyond internet payments to cover a network of physical entities. Users can now use Alipay and WeChat Wallet in shops, movie theatres and other businesses. They can also pay their utility, hospital and phone bills through the two systems, which can be installed on their phones.

Ng said setting up the innovation and technology bureau could help Hong Kong catch up with technological developments but the issue has been “polilticalised” under a “deteriorating political environment” in recent years.

The government’s proposal to set up the new bureau has been blocked by lawmakers in the Legislative Council. Some in the technology industry have expressed fear that the new bureau will grant funds and projects only to pro-government enterprises. Others have said it will be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.