In my recent unsuccessful campaign for election to the Legislative Council, I recommended that the new members reach out proactively to two groups of Hong Kong residents: young people, and the international business community. Even though I will not now be able to participate, I still think these exercises are worth the new Legco undertaking.
Far too many of our young people are disillusioned. They see no future for themselves, they are distrustful of the government, and would prefer to “lay flat” rather than look for opportunities to improve their living, as their parents and grandparents did before them. The most serious schism is in the political arena. Partly because of mistakes by the present administration, and partly because some elements of the opposition took a violent turn, Beijing has felt obliged to intervene directly with two major pieces of legislation. Introduction of the National Security Law has had a sobering effect and created some uncertainties. Meanwhile sweeping changes to election arrangements have, in the short term taken us further away from, rather than closer to, universal suffrage for chief executive and legislative council elections.
In the background of course has been a virulent anti-China sentiment both internationally and locally. Those seeking to halt China’s rise have used Hong Kong as a convenient stick with which to beat Beijing. Localists have tried to deny that Hong Kong, seen in its proper context, is an inalienable part of the nation. Many young people fell for the false narrative that one day our city could be independent. It was never true but the allure of the idea was just too attractive to some and overwhelmed their common sense. It will take time to correct this thinking and for the illusion to fade. The sight of protestors waving British and American flags, even singing the national anthems of those countries, came as a shock. What impact it had on policymakers in the capital can only be imagined.
In the longer term, more use of the national language, more teaching of Chinese history, and more study of Chinese literature will gradually lead to a better understanding of Chinese culture.
In the short term, this proposed outreach programme by Legco must be a two-way process. The younger members in the new legislature, being closer in age and thinking, can assist in the process of gently setting our youth on a more realistic path.
But they must also listen sympathetically to our university and senior high school students. After all their concerns are real even if their proposals are not always practicable.
One area ripe for new thinking is employment prospects. A person born in Manchester does not only look for career opportunities in that city. Depending on the field of interest and the individual’s aptitudes he may consider possible openings in Liverpool, or Birmingham, or London. Far too many young people in Hong Kong today seem to think the world ends at the Shenzhen river. Stepping back and taking a broader view, they may find attractive opportunities in Dongguan, or Guangzhou or other cities in Southern China, or even elsewhere in the whole country. Some of the new LegCo members have been successful there so can quote from personal experience.
Perhaps the most important result from the exercise will be to make our young people feel loved, or if that is too ambitious, at least not ignored.
The other group of people feeling somewhat neglected at the moment is the international community resident in the SAR, in particular the business sector. Once again this must be a two-way process. Legco members could start by emphasising how much they appreciate the presence of foreign companies and businessmen in our city. After all they are the cornerstone of our status as an international trading, financial and transportation hub. Without them our claim to be Asia’s World City would be an empty slogan.
The last three years have been tough for them. The social unrest has thankfully been calmed but there is a residual sense of bitterness and tension among the workforce. The Legco delegation could ask what ideas the international chambers have for easing these tensions. They could also enquire what concerns foreign companies have about national security and seek clarification of whether introduction of the National Security Law had only an emotional impact or whether there had been some tangible issues causing compliance departments to recommend shifting parts of the operations outside Hong Kong. When work starts, as soon it must, on legislating for Article 23, could foreign companies articulate their concerns and spell out what safeguards they would like to see in the new legislation. In short, was there anything that could be done to improve the operating environment without prejudicing national security. Opening communication channels between the new legislators and foreign companies can only be beneficial to efforts to preserve our attractiveness as a business city.
Another major area of concern is likely to be the zero Covid policy and the ensuing quarantine arrangements. Movements of senior executives into the SAR have reportedly been reduced to a trickle, but the outflow threatens to turn into a torrent. The Legco team needs to get an update on how serious the losses of business activities are likely to be, and an assessment of whether the losses can be recovered once normal travel resumes. All parties need clarification on why Hong Kong has the lowest vaccination rates of any part of China: the mainland, Taiwan, even Macau all have much higher rates than us. Discussion on how we can improve would be useful.
The underlying message for Legco in dealing with both our youth and international business is the same: we need to talk.