The Legislative Council’s Panel on Economic Development has passed a non-binding motion urging the government to postpone Hong Kong Disneyland’s HK$10.9 billion expansion plan.

The government and the Walt Disney Company announced last week plans for a multi-year expansion of the Lantau theme park. The announcement came after the Disneyland reported in February its first loss in four years in light of a slump in mainland Chinese tourists. Hong Kong is expected to inject HK$5.8 billion of public money into the project while the company will pay the rest.

A castle at Hong Kong Disneyland. Photo: Hong Kong Disneyland, via Facebook.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung explained the expansion plans to the Panel on Monday. The Panel passed a non-binding motion tabled by New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien urging the government to postpone the expansion while negotiating with the company to change the “unequal terms” of the agreement.

So said he was “not surprised” about the motion. “Any time there is a proposal for injection of capital or whatnot, there’ll always be a lot of issues that would be dug up. So I’m not surprised about that. I would not underestimate the difficulty involved [in the expansion plan] and that’s why I mentioned last week that it needs superpower,” So told RTHK.

The official urged lawmakers to “act fast” to help the theme park enhance its competitiveness. He said he will try to garner support from more lawmakers.

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So also said that Hong Kong Disneyland would not be given exclusive rights to the two proposed new zones based around the Frozen movie and Marvel features, which are expected to be completed by 2023.

“Disneyland normally does not give an exclusive franchise of its major brands to one Disneyland Resort. But they will ensure every resort has its unique features and experiences,” So said.

Other than tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who voiced support for the expansion plans, most lawmakers on the panel were critical of the proposal.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat of the pro-Beijing DAB party said locals found the park’s entrance fees unaffordable and questioned whether the expansion would result in a fee increase. She said the public perception is that the government has spent a lot of money on the park without generating many benefits for Hong Kong society.

gregory so disneyland marvel
Gregory So (second right) announced the expansion plan. File Photo: Gov HK.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said Hong Kong Disneyland was like a “state-owned enterprise” as it kept asking taxpayers to fund its commercial projects. She suggested that the Walt Disney Company bear the costs of the proposed expansion this time around.

Lawmaker Nathan Law of the Demosistō party questioned the government’s lack of justification for its continuous support for the theme park’s money-losing projects.

Lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung of the Democratic Party also asked why the park needed public funding for its operations. He said that it was “understandable” for the government to inject more funding than the Walt Disney Company into the park back in 1999 “because there was such a need,” but he said the government should consider reducing the proportion of its contribution from now on.

So said that since the government contributed funding to the park for the first time in 1999, it had injected HK$15.5 billion worth of loans and shares into the park. When building the third hotel, the government only gave HK$0.8 billion as a loan to the park, whereas the Walt Disney Company spent HK$8.5 billion on the hotel, according to So.

ted hui
Ted Hui. File Photo: Chantal Yuen/HKFP.

The official said the government has yet to set a timetable for submitting a financial proposal on the expansion plans to the legislature’s Finance Committee.

The Panel also passed a non-binding motion tabled by pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung, demanding the government set up a foundation to promote tourism based on local features.

But two motions urging the government to develop withdrawal strategies and oppose further injections in the future – tabled by pro-democracy lawmakers Claudia Mo and Dennis Kwok respectively – were vetoed.

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Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.