Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong as a shoppers’ paradise is so far behind the times

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-09

Peter Kammerer
Peter Kammerer says the city’s laggard mentality in pushing for a hi-tech future will take its toll in many ways, including when the global trend in online shopping hits the local sector in earnest

Hong Kong generally lags behind in global trends. Economically, socially and legally, we’re living in the past. By how much is difficult to gauge, but, by some measures, it could be as much as a decade. If we don’t start catching up, we’re going to suffer big time.

The loss of the US$25 billion Alibaba stock listing to New York was a prime and costly example of how stuck in our ways we can be. Almost three years later, the strictly enforced “one share, one vote” rule that blocked the bid remains in place, even though exchanges elsewhere have realised the importance of the dual-class share structure to ensuring the growth of firms, particularly those in the tech sector. Beyond big business, consider how the refusal to adopt European standards on air quality is affecting health and reputation, how the well-being of workers and their families is undermined by a lack of standard working hours and what a substandard pension scheme means for livelihoods. And we’re not even talking about issues like gay marriage and marijuana that are being legalised elsewhere.

But let’s move onto online shopping, an area that smartphone-loving Hongkongers should have embraced. Getting up-to-date statistics is difficult, but a Consumer Council study from last year comparing figures for 2014 gives a good perspective. That year, 23 per cent of internet-using Hongkongers had shopped online in the previous 12 months, compared to 67 per cent of mainland Chinese, 69 per cent of Japanese, 73 per cent of Germans, 78 per cent of Americans and 81 per cent of Britons.

Hong Kong’s compact size and shop-packed streets may be behind the low take-up. But I’ve a feeling much of it is to do with not trusting online sellers. Hong Kong people love to window shop and see what they’re buying before they purchase. But that gets in the way of the experience that online provides of trying new products from the wider range available, often at a lower price.

My sons long ago realised that, feeding their gym-rat lifestyles with supplements, equipment and clothing. So, too, have consumers elsewhere in the world, with increasingly dramatic effect on cityscapes. Online trade has become so engrained that shops are closing. The trend is especially noticeable in the US, where thousands of retail stores operated by big-name brands like Macy’s, Sears and Kmart, to name but a few, have already closed this year.

The same is happening in Europe, Canada and Australia; it’s inevitable when stores don’t respond quickly enough to customer demands on price, selection and fashion. And if the experience of my sons and their 20- and 30-something friends is any guide, it’s going to hit Hong Kong sooner rather than later. The impact to our economy won’t be huge as, by various estimates, the retail sector accounts for only between 1.3 and 3.9 per cent of gross domestic product. But with the Hong Kong Retail Management Association claiming that about 10 per cent of our city’s workers, or 260,000 people, are employed in the sector, there could be a huge impact on the labour force.

Authorities seem oblivious; they’re still pushing Hong Kong as a shoppers’ paradise. The latest retail sales figures for March showing a 3.1 per cent rise on the same period last year, reversing a months-long drift, gives a false sense of security. But, like it or not, trends elsewhere eventually catch fire in our city and with an explosion of online shopping will come job losses for tens of thousands of people. The half-hearted effort to push new industries has to be replaced by a mindset to fully embrace the hi-tech present and future.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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How China’s belt and road can pave the way to global sustainability

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-09

Yixiu Wu says Beijing should ensure its belt and road projects address environmental concerns, so as to shape development across three continents and leave behind a green legacy

On May 14 and 15, 28 heads of state and government leaders will convene in Beijing for the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. At a time when much of the world is recoiling into protectionism, the Belt and Road Initiative represents China’s unprecedented entry onto the global stage. A new chapter of the China story is unfolding.

The success of the initiative, which spans 65 countries, will depend on whether long-term concerns are prioritised. In the face of climate change, a transition away from fossil fuel consumption and towards environmental sustainability is imperative.

The launch of the belt and road follows three decades of rapid economic growth in China, which has been fuelled by infrastructure development and intensive energy consumption. As a result of this legacy, China’s investments in the initiative have attracted scepticism. Observers questioned whether the belt and road is merely a vessel for China to reproduce its old development model, which, despite ushering in unprecedented growth, has led to widespread environmental degradation. Such questions are valid, considering that, between 2005 and 2016, 40 per cent of China’s outbound investment was directed towards energy projects and 18 per cent to infrastructure. Moreover, environmental negligence is one of the most frequently cited complaints about Chinese companies overseas.

The Earth has reached a crisis point. Extreme weather patterns are becoming the norm, forests are shrinking, and water supplies are running dry. There is no room any more for a development model that promotes growth at the expense of the environment.

Moreover, the belt and road countries are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems and most precious carbon sink. They also use much of the world’s resources: a study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that 38 key belt and road nations emit more than 55 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases and consume 66 per cent of global water resources.

The good news is that, within and outside China, models of sustainable development appear promising. Domestically, China has begun to decouple its economic progress from fossil fuel consumption and is now home to the world’s fastest-growing renewable energy industry. China’s coal consumption has fallen for three years running, a key factor in the flattening of global greenhouse gas emissions. Internationally, the imperative for multilateral sustainability initiatives is indisputable, as exemplified by the Paris agreement on climate change.

Shaping belt and road projects with the environment in mind makes economic sense. A focus on sustainable development will help achieve economic and political stability for China and its belt and road partners. It will improve energy efficiency and limit regional conflicts over natural resources.

The question now is how to ensure that long-term imperatives are not overlooked in favour of short-term profit. Doing so requires rules and processes, backed by high-level political resolve. It also depends on the inclusion of diverse stakeholders to assess the environmental implications of belt and road initiatives. It is crucial that China make publicly available information about the overseas belt and road projects, subjecting them to scrutiny from local and international communities.

The belt and road has the potential to shape sustainable development across three continents. The initiative is ambitious and complex. It calls for collaboration from key international actors, such as the UN, the EU and the multilateral development banks.

If wisdom and resolve prevail, three decades from now, the Belt and Road Initiative will exemplify the benefits that a rising China can bring to the world. It is now more important than ever that the next chapter of the China story be centred on a commitment to sustainable development. This emphasis is key not only to preserving China’s legacy, but also to ensuring global prosperity for decades to come.

Yixiu Wu is a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. Her work focuses on China’s global environmental footprint and One Belt, One Road polices


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Revoke Hong Kong’s rural housing privileges so everyone can have a decent home

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-08

Mike Rowse says the favouritism shown to Hong Kong’s rural villages in terms of land allocation comes at the expense of the urban majority, and this unequal and politically unacceptable policy must change
A remark by a guest on a TV talk show has enabled me to better understand one of Hong Kong’s great mysteries: why it is so difficult to make more land available for housing. At first I thought I had misheard, or misunderstood, or he had misspoken. But confirmation came just a few days later in a different forum from an impeccable source.

The guest on Michael Chugani’s talk show was Shih Wing-ching, chairman of a free Chinese-language newspaper, but better known as the founder of one of our top property agencies. Shih said Hong Kong only set aside 7 per cent of land for residential use, of which 4 per cent was for urban housing, and 3 per cent for rural settlement. If just two of those three percentage points were switched to urban housing, which is by nature more intensive, we would have more than enough land to meet all our requirements.

“Surely that cannot be correct” would be a common first reaction. But by chance, a few days later, confirmation came at a forum on development in the New Territories, for which the Planning Department shared statistics on land utilisation in the SAR: private residential – 2.3 per cent; public residential – 1.4 per cent; rural settlement – 3.2 per cent. So Shih actually slightly understated the discrepancy.

Of course, not all that 3.2 per cent is suitable for conversion to intensive housing development; there will be small pockets in remote locations that should be ignored on practical grounds. But there is surely scope for a considerable amount to be reclassified.

A village in Sai Kung. Hong Kong has no fewer than 642 recognised villages, and 4,500 hectares of farmland, of which only around 700 hectares are actively farmed. The small-house policy is politically unsustainable. Photo: Dickson Lee

Two other extraordinary figures were shared: Hong Kong has no fewer than 642 recognised villages, and 4,500 hectares of farmland, of which only around 700 hectares are actively farmed.

The fact is Hong Kong is essentially a city. The experience of every other major city in the world – London, Paris, Tokyo, New York – shows that as they grow, they absorb the villages surrounding them. Indeed, we don’t need international comparators, as elsewhere in China we have seen the same process in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing ( 重慶 ) and other large conurbations. Farming also gets squeezed out to the periphery as urbanisation takes hold. Only in Hong Kong, apparently, do we have to pretend the situation prevailing in 1898 is to be preserved for all time.

By now the elephant in the room of our housing situation should be apparent for all to see. It is the small-house policy, and the fabled “rights” of our indigenous villagers. A typical small house is three storeys on 700 sq ft, or 2,100 sq ft in total. At a time when an apartment of a quarter that size in the urban area rates as a good home for a family of four, at a time when our developers are selling flats as small as 150 sq ft to give prospective buyers a first rung on the ownership ladder, this discrepancy is socially and politically unacceptable and unsustainable.

How can we stop the small-house juggernaut? The good news is that, contrary to common assertion, the Basic Law does not protect the small-house policy, and indeed those two words do not appear in it. Article 40 says, “The lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the ‘New Territories’ shall be protected by the Hong Kong special administrative region”. This article is subject to challenge because of the different treatment meted out to men and women, which is contrary to other legislation in Hong Kong. It also runs foul of Article 25, which states, “All Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law”.

How can it be legitimate for one group to obtain, at very low cost, a large residence whereas another similar group is expected to pay a king’s ransom for one a quarter of the size? How can it be right that one group, merely through birth, gets the equivalent of a Mark Six win, while many of our best professionals will only secure a decent property through inheritance?

We see before us a controversial effort by the government to extinguish a small group of villages occupied by non-indigenous residents at Wang Chau. What we need is a comprehensive policy to provide for the gradual extinguishment of all villages in the New Territories when the land they occupy is needed to provide decent housing for all in Hong Kong. It’s either that or reclaim our way south to the Philippines.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises.


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Hong Kong’s teachers can help change mindsets on science and maths degrees

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-08

William Pang is alarmed at students’ growing aversion to science and maths fields and says the crux of the problem seems to be that educators are failing to convince them about the diverse doors STEM degrees can open

Friends and teachers from my days at Diocesan Boys’ School would never have pinned me as an engineering major. I was mediocre at best in maths.

Which is why I was surprised to hear that many of my maths-whiz friends ended up pursuing majors in the humanities, law or medicine, rather than engineering, maths or the physical sciences.

A recent study spearheaded by Professor Tsui Lap-chee, former president of the University of Hong Kong, raised further alarm: the percentage of students taking advanced maths dropped from 23 per cent in 2012 to 14 per cent last year. But admission data shows that entry into engineering and science programmes is less competitive than for the humanities. So why are students increasingly uninterested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields?

The crux of the problem seems to be the poor job that educators are doing in promoting and convincing students to pursue STEM degrees. A science degree does not mean ending up in a government or teaching job. Most engineering degree holders don’t become engineers, but go on to pursue diverse careers, including in law or business. Amazon head Jeff Bezos and US Secretary of State (and former ExxonMobil CEO) Rex Tillerson have engineering degrees, as do 33 per cent of CEOs.

An essential point that has been underemphasised in the STEM discourse is that an education in STEM fields can open many doors. Engineering students don’t just learn about the nuances of thermodynamic cycles, they must learn to work as a team and solve real-life problems. Science and maths students are trained to think critically, question assumptions and form hypotheses – skills that are of incredible value.

Hong Kong’s education system places too much emphasis on the idea that there is a “model answer” for every problem: which is often not the case in science and certainly not true in real life.

Educators could turn to computer programming to kindle young people’s passion for science. The beauty of programming is that there are many approaches to tackle a single problem, which requires students to think laterally and devise creative solutions.

Educators across all levels of schooling play a role in shaping the perception of STEM fields – whether it is the primary school teacher who sparks a student’s sense of curiosity, the middle school teacher who instils a love for science, or the college professor who convinces an undergraduate student to take part in research.

Unless there’s a cultural shift in the way we approach science education, Hong Kong students will soon find themselves trailing behind the international competition.

William Pang is an engineering student at McGill University


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愈年輕愈投本土/自決派一票

明報
筆陣
2017-05-11
蔡子強、陳雋文

上個星期(5月4日),通過整理選舉事務處公布的立法會選舉投票數據,點出近年年輕人投票行為模式的兩大重要特徵,分別是:

一、在雨傘運動之後,年輕人無論在區議會選舉或立法會選舉,投票意欲都有明顯的上升,尤其是立選,投票率增幅尤其驚人,遠高於中年及老年人的增幅;

二、年輕人對立法會選舉的投票意欲,要遠遠高於區議會選舉。

今個星期,通過整理兩個於2012年及2016年立法會選舉後所作的研究,再點出年輕人投票行為模式的另外一些重要特徵。

<u>愈年輕愈投票泛民 愈年長愈投票建制</u>

表1是我與同事馬嶽及前同事黃鶴回兩位教授,在2012年立法會選舉後所作的一個研究當中的部分數據。

當中可見,這些數據所呈現出來的圖象,與大家的常識脗合,那就是愈年輕的人,愈會在選舉中投票給泛民;相反,愈年長的人,卻愈會投票給建制派。在青年(18至39歲)組別,有差不多三分之二的人投票給泛民,與投票給建制的,相差42個百分點;至於中年(40至59歲)組別,雖然投票給泛民的仍然佔多,但差距已經明顯收窄,只餘7個百分點;到了老年(60歲或以上)組別,情况更出現逆轉,投票給建制的已經反佔多數,而且多出近12個百分點。

青年人初出茅廬,尤其是剛離開學校(當中相當比例指的是大學),仍比較理想化,心態上仍是比較嚮往民主、自由、人權等理念,對權威反感,因此投票時,也較鍾情民主派;至於建制派那套保守政治論述,不易聽得入耳,亦因此很難投建制派一票。

但中年人要「撐起頭家」,需面對生活壓力,供樓、畀家用、照顧高堂、負擔子女教育開支,慢慢就變得比較現實,亦更易接受建制派強調安定、繁榮、和諧的那套保守政治論述,於是也有不少人投建制派一票。

到了老年人,隨着步入暮年,他們不單心態上變得比中年人更保守,更抗拒轉變以至「激烈」的東西,且很多早年未有機會接受良好教育,對民主、自由、人權等理念比較「無感」,且大多數是早年大陸移民,較易被「愛國」、民族主義那套打動;最後,更是建制派「蛇齋餅糭」政治攻略的主要市場所在,於是更大比例的投建制派一票。

<u>那麼本土/自決派出現之後又如何?</u>

2012年立選,本土/自決派仍未成氣候;但到了2016年立選,卻變得來勢洶洶,他們甚至聲言要與傳統泛民、建制「三分天下」。那麼不同年齡層,尤其是青年人,他們的投票取向又出現了怎樣的變化呢?

表2是港大民意研究計劃在2016年立法會選舉後所作的一個研究當中的部分數據。

當中可見,在青年組別,投給「泛民+本土/自決派」的,與2012年那個研究一樣,都是佔了三分之二左右,且有所上升,由上屆的64.8%,上升至今屆的67.58%;相反,愈年長的人,卻愈會投票給建制派,到了老年組別,情况更出現逆轉,投票給建制的已經反佔多數,同樣多出近12個百分點。

但更重要的是,如果我們把「泛民+本土/自決派」分拆為溫和泛民(民主黨、公民黨、工黨、民協等)、激進泛民(人社同盟)、本土/自決派(熱普城、青政、眾志等)三大板塊,我們更能仔細看到青年人的投票取向。

<u>青年人對本土/自決派尤為鍾情</u>

從表2中可見,青年對本土/自決派最為鍾情,三成人投票給他們,冠於所有政治板塊;如果把「激進泛民+本土/自決派」合併來計,更進一步高達四成多,高於溫和泛民的兩成半,更遑論建制派的不足兩成。

這和大家的常識脗合,那就是青年人是本土/自決派的主要票源,最為鍾情本土、自決及其他激進政治主張,最為躁動不安、急於求變,易為這些激進政治力量所動員和吸納。相反,老年人卻對他們最為抗拒,亦最少投票給他們,只有5%。

我相信有讀者會問,前述我們在整理數據時,把年輕組別定為18至39歲,但如果進一步收窄為18至29歲,那就是真的剛離開校門最年輕熱血的那個年紀,情况又如何呢?表3我們整理了有關數字。

從表3中可見,我們看到情况更加一面倒,18至29歲這群人,有高達八成支持「泛民+本土/自決派」!他們更對本土/自決派最為鍾情,四成人投票給本土/自決派;如果把「激進泛民+本土/自決派」合併來計,更進一步高達五成,即是每兩票就有一票投給他們!

這似乎真的應驗了一句:愈年輕,愈激進。

(本文部分數據由港大民意研究計劃提供,特此鳴謝港大民研計劃以及鍾庭耀和Edward Tai)

(傘運前後年輕人的投票模式剖析 三之二)

2016