Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Investor Cheah Cheng Hye says Hong Kong must become a community to have a future

South China Morning Post
News›Hong Kong›Politics Moving forward

Financial leader Cheah Cheng Hye says city needs to become a community to solve social ills like inequality and feelings of entitlement

Q: Is there any way we can improve relations between city residents and people on the mainland?

A: We could set up a volunteer corps that sends young Hongkongers to work on mainland community projects

All that glitters in the city is not what it seems, says a veteran investor and leading figure in Hong Kong’s financial sector.

Cheah Cheng Hye warns that unless they are tackled now, nascent problems lurking in the shadows will hurt Hong Kong in the long term.

As the chairman of Value Partners sees it, a confluence of combustible forces is at play. First, Hong Kong seems to have lost some of its earlier spirit of self-reliance. Instead, a sense of entitlement is spreading to the younger generation, part of a global phenomenon to which the city is not immune.

Second, growing income inequality is fuelling a sense of displacement among those born and bred in the housing estates of the city, as they see others benefit handsomely while they struggle to eke out a living and raise a family in a high-cost environment.

Third, the elite – with some prominent exceptions, Cheah says – do not feel that they have an obligation to reach out and help forge a sense of community.

On the ever-increasing demands placed on government and society, the 61-year-old investor says: “It is a global phenomenon of social and political and economic development. It will eventually come to mainland China as well. But Hong Kong hasn’t figured out a way to deal with this sense of entitlement.”

On the privileged class, he fears that many “really just want to cling on to their privileges and wealth and their very special positions in society, and are not very interested in sharing or giving”.

While the growing sense of entitlement may have stemmed from slowing social mobility in the city in recent years, the local elite’s sense of entrenchment is characterised by their refusal to adjust themselves to the new reality, Cheah believes. “They are in a state of denial.”

But they must recognise that society needs to cohere to tackle the looming challenges, including transforming the economy. In his view, the Hong Kong economy is now dominated only by the financial sector and the civil service, with the decline of the manufacturing industry and the fading lustre of the hospitality and retail sectors.

But even in the still robust financial industry, fewer local professionals are able to secure senior positions. Cheah says this is the sad reality for many locals even as he recognises that foreigners are a vital and welcome presence in the economy.

The seasoned journalist-turned-investor, who has made Hong Kong his home for more than 40 years, does not shy away from tackling these and other controversial issues candidly.

Speaking without any sense of acrimony or blame, he says that many socio-economic problems may not be resolved if the city is unable to break the current political deadlock.

“To be effective, we need in Hong Kong today a leader who can inspire and appeal directly to the Hong Kong people. We need a man or woman with charisma and a youthful image who emerges as a hero of the Hong Kong people, able to mobilise popular opinion directly to overcome vested interests and doubters from all sections of society, including the wealthy elite, the foreign elite, and parts of the media and the political establishment.

“He also needs to position himself as being useful to Beijing and the implementation of the Basic Law, as well as a genuine admirer of President Xi Jinping , but he cannot take the risk of being a yes man and a rubber stamp for whatever Beijing officials want,” Cheah adds.

He says the electoral reforms proposed for 2017, from a pragmatic perspective, are the best practical hope for allowing such an effective and inspirational leader to emerge. “Politics is about compromise and pragmatism, and making do with what comes to hand.”

Cheah gets to the heart of what he believes Hong Kong needs urgently: a sense of community so that everyone can feel they are what he calls a “Hong Kong belonger”.

“We badly need to build up in Hong Kong a sense of community and belonging. Give young people a feeling that they can participate fully in the success of Hong Kong and make them proud to be a Hong Kong belonger,” he says.

Cheah, who has witnessed over the past few decades the ups and downs of the city, thinks the widening income gap has left society deeply divided.

He calls on the Hong Kong government to introduce more preferential measures for the disadvantaged, pointing to the positive impact of affirmative action schemes in some Western and Asian societies. These policies vary from region to region, with some measures more symbolic than substantive, such as reserving places or jobs for certain disadvantaged groups.

Some of the reform measures Cheah proposes include making significant changes to the British education system that the city inherited.

Cheah had to leave school at 16 to help his family make ends meet, and knows what it’s like growing up poor. He says educators should put more emphasis on business and vocational training, because not every student wants to or can succeed in the liberal arts.

On further narrowing income inequalities, he says the government should provide targeted subsidies that in effect assist “Hong Kong belongers” in various ways, such as by nurturing new industries, innovation and training and employment opportunities and improving welfare for the genuinely helpless.

Cheah hails from Malaysia, where affirmative action was introduced to help the majority ethnic group. As a Chinese, he and many others in his community did not get help even though they were poor. He started work as a newspaper folder. Despite the hurdles he faced – or rather because of them – he firmly believes in the need for targeted help to those most in genuine need.

“I know how bad and painful it was. I am an exception that proves the rule. For every single me, there must have been hundreds of underprivileged kids in Malaysia who vanished into the night,” he says.

Cheah firmly believes that Hong Kong should preserve the concepts of a “free market” and a “level playing field”, but thinks it has to do everything possible to prepare people to be competitive on this level playing field when they first enter it.

“We need to nurture and provide opportunities to equip them to be competitive through better support, training and an affirmative action programme that gives them a head start to the extent possible,” he says.

To help make this happen, Cheah also says the richest few in Hong Kong should contribute “more meaningfully” towards this cause.

The investment guru proposes a redistribution of wealth: “Raise taxation either directly or indirectly on the wealthy elite of Hong Kong to help pay for an affirmative action programme to help Hong Kong belongers.

“Preferably, the wealth tax would be in a format that makes tax avoidance difficult – for example, a ‘mansion tax’ imposed on luxury housing.”

He stresses that the government should not shirk its responsibilities, and says drastic moves are sometimes necessary. “To the extent allowed by Basic Law, make use of Hong Kong’s huge reserve – ‘saved up for rainy days’ – to overhaul Hong Kong society. The rainy day is now,” he says.

He says immigration policies in Hong Kong must be overhauled to genuinely give preference to Hong Kong residents, especially in terms of employment opportunities and access to the facilities of the community.

“The alternative could be an ugly outbreak of anti-foreigner feelings and escalating anti-mainland Chinese sentiment in the medium-term future.”

He says the Hong Kong government needs to “let out the steam slowly”.

“We have to pre-empt such an outbreak for, in fact, foreign professionals and workers are an asset, not a liability, in many aspects of Hong Kong society.”

“I work in Hong Kong as a financial centre … [For] a financial centre to flourish, there must be social and political stability. These are the essential ingredients for going forward.”

Looking ahead, Cheah believes Hong Kong’s future hinges on the mainland. The city’s government should in the long run provide incentives to promote a closer relationship with the mainland, especially the Pearl River Delta, and closer integration of Hong Kong and Shenzhen when this idea becomes less sensitive.

He says Hong Kong businesses should be encouraged to set up on the mainland and provide services that increase the benefits to Hong Kong from mainland growth.

“It is very worrying that we have lost the support of public opinion on the Chinese mainland. We must make a major effort to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese public. An action plan is required,” Cheah says.

One of his suggestions is to form a Hong Kong volunteer corps – modelled after the US Peace Corps – to send young Hongkongers to the mainland for periods of one to two years or longer, to work on community projects financed by the Hong Kong government.

Cheah says the real objective of this programme would be to improve understanding between Hongkongers and people on the mainland.

“Hong Kong has almost no chance of a bright future in the medium term if it loses the support of Chinese public opinion, a process that has already started but can be reversed.

“We must not be afraid to spend our considerable resources and reserves on such a worthwhile battle.

“And we need to be patient, for in fact, Chinese society itself is changing gradually in a healthy direction, and over time, the gap between the values of mainland Chinese society and those of Hong Kong society will narrow.”

Even as he identifies the city’s ills, Cheah remains convinced it has within it a resilient spirit that will see it through, with the right guidance. Having lived more than half his life in the city he now calls home, Cheah says Hongkongers are open-hearted and self-reliant and some of the “best people I have come across in any society in the world”.

Value Partners investment guru Cheah Cheng Hye made a name for himself by never ceasing to ‘Learn’

Aged 20, Cheah Cheng Hye sold his Honda motorbike in his hometown in Penang state, Malaysia to buy a boat ticket to Hong Kong – the only form of transport he could afford.

It took him 14 days to arrive, and after doing so he headed straight for the gritty guesthouses of Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui for the cheapest room he could find. He found a job at a newspaper, continuing the career he had made for himself back home.

By the time he left journalism to co-found Value Partners, he had worked for The Hong Kong Standard, the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Wall Street Journal.

Born poor and having lost his father at age nine, Cheah told himself learning was the key to improving his lot. As a permanent reminder to himself, he took to signing his name as “Learn”, a habit he still has today, despite presiding over a multibillion-dollar investment firm.

“When I was around 30, I changed my signature to ‘Learn’ because I realised it was essential to never stop learning, no matter how old I became.”

Despite having attained good grades in exams, Cheah left school at age 16 to earn money to help support his working class family. His first job was as a newspaper folder, working from 10pm to 5am on shifts that would leave “all our faces black from the ink”.

He was quickly promoted to trainee reporter at Malaysia’s The Star newspaper which would lead to his decision to head to Hong Kong to work as a journalist.

Now chairman of Value Partners, he attributes much of his success to staying humble and being respectful of others while being true to oneself.

He started the firm with a partner, V-Nee Yeh, in 1993, managing about US$4.5 million in assets. Cheah says he realised at the time that asset management had to move beyond investing in stocks. He was “aggressive” in expanding the firm and made a name as a pioneer in the region in asset management.

Today, with about US$15 billion in assets under the firm’s management and a market capitalisation of HK$24 billion, Value Partners is by far the largest Hong Kong-based fund-management company, and the only one of its kind listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. The company has won more than 100 awards.

After witnessing the growth of Hong Kong into a major financial centre, Cheah now calls the city home, and has given up his Malaysian passport to take a Hong Kong one.

“I am proud of my roots as a Malaysian and as an overseas Chinese, but I see Hong Kong as my adopted home. I will always be grateful to Hong Kong and its people for all the opportunities they have given me,” he says.
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Hong Kong has a part to play in China’s major scientific quests

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Sun Kwok

Sun Kwok says Hong Kong’s science community can strengthen its relevance by contributing expertise to China’s quests and providing a vital link between the mainland and the West

Since the Research Grants Council was established in 1991, scientific research in Hong Kong has made tremendous progress. Researchers are now publishing many more findings in international journals than they were 25 years ago.

However, we must overcome some major hurdles for research to reach the next level and compete with North America, Europe, Australia and Japan.

The greatest handicap we face is access to medium-sized and large research facilities. Tackling problems at the frontiers of science requires such facilities. For instance, synchrotron light sources are basic tools for research in biology, chemistry, geology, materials science and medicine. High-energy particle accelerators are needed to probe the fundamental structure of matter. To conduct marine and environmental science, access to ocean-going vessels is needed. Satellites are now basic platforms for remote sensing to study the earth, oceans, atmosphere, weather and the universe.

Each of these basic facilities costs tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Some large facilities are even more expensive. The best-known example is the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which cost almost US$10 billion to build and over US$1 billion a year to operate. Nations had to pool their resources: the Large Hadron Collider began as a European project but now involves virtually all the world’s major countries. The list of Asian participants includes China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

The well-known Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project between Nasa and the European Space Agency and cost over US$2 billion. Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Telescope, currently under construction, has already cost over US$8 billion. The world’s largest radio astronomy facility, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, was built with contributions from the US, Canada, Europe, Japan and Taiwan, totalling US$1.4 billion. The Square Kilometer Array, a joint effort by over a dozen countries, is estimated to cost over US$2 billion when completed.

China is participating in the Thirty-Meter Telescope to be constructed in Hawaii. It will cost about US$1 billion, to be shared with the US, Canada, Japan and India. Countries are willing to spend large sums because they recognise that these scientific facilities are investments in future advances in technology and in commerce.

China, a rapidly rising scientific power, has demonstrated a strong commitment to major facilities. It has built a synchrotron light source in Shanghai, sent orbiting satellites and landers to the moon, and launched the 100-metre vessel Kexue for oceanography, climatology and marine biology.

Antarctic research is regarded as a high priority, as evidenced by President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Xuelong icebreaker in Tasmania before it departed for the Zhongshan station in Antarctica last year. China has established a permanent research station called Kunlun at Dome A, the highest point of the Antarctic plateau.

Other major Chinese initiatives include a 500-metre radio telescope being built in Guizhou and an underground neutrino observatory under construction in Jiangmen . Hong Kong, as a city, has no such capabilities or ambitions. Although the Research Grants Council has funded small science very well, we are constrained in the types of problems we can solve. And the world cares about solutions to big problems, not small ones.

The only way for us to join the club of advanced science countries is through our mother country, China. By playing a role, however small, in a large project, we gain access to the facilities, allowing us to pursue answers to more important scientific problems.

One may ask: what can Hong Kong do? While China will take care of the construction and operation of hardware and infrastructure, Hong Kong can assist in the building of small instruments, development of software and data analysis. We can provide small instruments for particle accelerators and ocean-going vessels.

Even in large space projects, where the launch and construction of the spacecraft are expensive, there is room for Hong Kong to participate in the design and development of software for control, tracking, downlink and data analysis.

Hong Kong has a community of scientists with extensive experience in the West, and can contribute expertise to the national effort. This will give Hong Kong citizens a sense of belonging and allow them to share the pride of its successes.

The University of Hong Kong has taken some steps to collaborate with China. In March, we hosted an international collaboration meeting on Antarctic survey telescopes to discuss astronomical observations from Antarctica. We hope to assist China in the design and scientific planning of infrared and submillimetre-wave telescopes at Dome A. HKU has also recently taken a first step to expand its space research.

For Hong Kong to advance in science and technology, the status quo is not an option and the best way forward is through collaboration with China. At the same time, we should maintain our contacts with Western collaborators. Acting as a bridge between China and the West is our strongest position. If we fail to grasp this opportunity, the role of Hong Kong science in China and the world will diminish.

Professor Sun Kwok is the dean of science at the University of Hong Kong. He has been guest observer on many Nasa and ESA space missions. He is currently the president of the commission on interstellar matter and vice-president of the commission on bioastronomy of the International Astronomical Union

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Why working parents should stop feeling guilty about missing out on time with their children

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says families, and employers, will benefit when parents make the most of the occasions they are with their kids

Working parents, I have news! A new study – the first ever large-scale, long-term study – of parent time by the University of Maryland has found that the amount of time parents spend with their children between the ages of three and 11 has almost no relationship with how the children turn out, both emotionally and academically.

What’s more important than sheer quantity of time is quality; things like reading a book to a child, sharing meals, going for a walk, for example. But staggeringly, even that pales in comparison with two other variables that are far more important than time spent with children: income and a mother’s educational level. In other words, rich trumps time.

Wow. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the study was written by a banker. It goes against everything I’d ever thought or experienced, which is that, when it comes to children, time is king. Yet, after poring over the study for two days, looking at all the various control variables and charts, it’s hard to deny the science.

The science is this: whenever we are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious, it rubs off on our children. We’ve all been there: sighed when they ask us to take them to the park, our eyes sliding to the report on our laptops that’s due on Monday. How many of us have sat through school events with one eye on our child and the other on our watch? I know I have.

Apparently, our children can feel every little sigh and wince. “Hey, but at least we were there!” we say. According to the study, being present and accessible isn’t the same as being engaged. We don’t get brownie points just for being around.

If only we could compartmentalise better and spend time with our children without feeling any stress about all the work we have to do. But that’s easier said than done, especially in today’s technological world, where having a job often means being accessible 24/7.

And while the number of hours spent working has increased in the past few decades, so has the number of hours spent with our kids. For dads in the US, the average time spent with their kids has tripled, from 2.6 hours per week in 1965 to 7.2 in 2010. For mums, it rose from 10.5 hours in 1965 to 13.7 hours in 2010, even as the percentage of working mothers rose from 41 per cent in 1965 to 71 per cent in 2010.

No wonder we’re sleep-deprived and crabby – we’re working more and spending more time with our kids.

Is the answer, then, to just forget the children and focus on increasing our income, since that’s more highly correlated with success, anyway? I can picture it already: my son walks up to me and asks if I can come to his soccer match. I tell him sorry, kiddo, the correlation for that is just too weak.

Ultimately, I think the thing to take away from the study is not to ditch our children or load up on work. It’s to ditch our guilt. There’s no point being around our kids and feeling guilty about our work. We’ll do our children more harm than good.

Similarly, there’s no point being at work and feeling guilty about not being with our kids. Both will survive without us, but both will thrive with us, if we’re our full selves when we’re around, and not just half our selves.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.

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Shenzhen visitor cutbacks a chance for Hong Kong to restore local communities

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Paul Yip

Paul Yip says we should not rely so much on short-term gains from mainland tourists

The recent announcement of the restrictions on Shenzhen permanent residents, limiting them to one visit a week to Hong Kong, should be welcomed by all sectors. It can reduce the number of parallel-goods traders and also minimise the disruption to residents, especially in the New Territories. It should be viewed as an opportunity to ease the present congestion and allow more time and space for the government to improve people’s livelihoods.

However, the response from representatives of the retail sector has been disappointing and shortsighted, simply focusing on their own immediate profit without considering others and the overall benefits. One lawmaker suggested that up to 30 per cent of shops may be forced to shut down, saying it could well lead to job losses.

Perhaps, instead, it is a chance for the community to take back the shops that were forced out due to increased rents. Could it be a golden opportunity to restore our community, leading to healthier development?

We don’t need so many high-end jewellery shops and drug stores in our local community anyway. Should we work on service quality and diversity rather than relying on making quick money by providing substandard services to mainland visitors? In the past few years, many local communities have been disrupted by the disproportional increase of these shops serving parallel traders and the disappearance of others.

There are some suggestions that the new rules might leave those affected on the mainland harbouring negative feelings.

However, Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments have to make it clear that the exercise will benefit both sides. For those in Shenzhen, the reduction of parallel traders will reduce the loss of goods taxes. With fewer people, the shopping experience of genuine visitors to Hong Kong will be enhanced.

For the Hong Kong side, a diversification of products and cheaper rents can improve the sustainability of overall development. The overemphasis on retail services for parallel goods trading and the unbalanced development of our economy are unhealthy and have become a source of conflict and disharmony in the community,

I am disappointed by the media which has not shown a more thoughtful and in-depth analysis of the effects but has instead simply followed “the doomsday scenario” as suggested by retail sector representatives. Are we paying the same attention to the shops that were squeezed out? Have their voices been heard?

The capacity to handle mainland tourists has been the subject of heated debate in Taiwan and elsewhere. Some local shops in Hualien, , a beautiful town on the east coast of Taiwan, have been forced out and replaced by chain stores which are owned by mainland businessmen. The local economy has not benefited much from these changes. Furthermore, the closure of some affordable student accommodation to make room for more visitors has caused considerable distress in the community. However, in Taiwan, the local media has shown more empathy towards the plight of local residents. Certainly, it is good to have more business but it should not be achieved without considering the overall social cost.

Similarly, residents in Hong Kong’s North District have been complaining about the high cost of goods as a result of the occupation of shops for parallel traders. With the latest rule change, it is a good time to revisit the situation and address their concerns by aiming for something more sustainable and community friendly.

We need to find again our strength and confidence to develop our economy without relying so much on tourism from mainland China. Of course, we welcome visitors from the mainland and other places, but they are not and should not be our lifeline. The short-term loss of a few million dollars from the cut in the number of Shenzhen residents’ visits will not hurt Hong Kong and I hope the media can put things into perspective.

The fear of job losses and economic pain needs to be better understood, and evidence produced. The “noise” that has so far been generated is very much a reflection of people being focused on themselves and a short-term gain mindset among stakeholders. These sort of reactions hurt the community much more than losing visitors. The government should not ignore its responsibility to improve our capacity to accommodate tourists.

There needs to be a clampdown on unlawful operations by some mainland visitor tour companies, and those in charge should face stiff penalties to protect the Hong Kong brand.

It is a time to inspire hope rather than fear in the community to achieve more sustainable growth for everyone. The government, retailers and the community should seize this opportunity to restore harmony and enhance overall well-being in the community.

Paul Yip is professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong

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Hong Kong’s apathy: 66 uncontested seats at district council elections underline weakness of political parties, lack of youth interest

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Sonny Lo

Sonny Lo says given the lack of fully competitive district council elections, Hong Kong’s major parties must help themselves by improving their accountability and reaching out to the young

Although 951 candidates will compete for the 431 directly elected seats in the district council elections next month, 66 seats will have no opponents. This shows political parties were unable to field enough candidates for fully competitive elections.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has nominated 172 candidates to run – the largest party with the largest number of candidates. The largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party, has nominated only 95 candidates. The lack of candidates has been a feature of district council elections since the 1980s.

Does this point to parties’ failure? If parties are defined as political organisations fielding candidates to compete in elections and grasp political power, then they are failing on both fronts. In fact, a political party law doesn’t even exist in Hong Kong. And according to the Basic Law, district councils are district-level organisations that do not have political power but are there to advise the government on local affairs.

From Beijing’s perspective, if the DAB does not constitute a majority political force in the Legislative Council and the 18 district councils, democratisation in the form of full direct elections to the legislature would mean pro-Beijing forces could not win a majority of seats. If so, the underdevelopment of political parties may arguably be a factor contributing to Beijing’s reluctance to allow a fully directly elected legislature in the foreseeable future.

If this is the case, Hong Kong political parties must improve in several ways.

First, they must join hands to push the government to consider formulating a political party law that would give subsidies to parties running for office. The money would have to be returned if a party failed to gain a certain percentage of the vote. A political party law is a must to legalise the operation of parties and stimulate their development.

Second, parties must avoid fighting among themselves as this only generates an image of incompetence and politicking. Many parties are fragmented; some have limited reach or are elitist.

Overall, they do not have the trust of many ordinary citizens, with a few creating an image of relying “snake soup and vegetarian dinners” to woo the support of elderly residents.

Scandals involving some district council members have tarnished the public image of both the councils and parties. Political parties must exercise strict discipline on members by putting in place respectable party whips.

Third, the work of parties at the district level has to be visible; all district councillors and candidates must understand the need to help their constituents rather than hiding in their offices after being elected. Parties must ensure elected councillors publish work reports regularly to enhance their public accountability.

Fourth, parties have neglected the importance of recruiting more young people into their organisations. The youth branches of political parties are perhaps weaker than other comparable youth organisations. The fact that many young Umbrella Movement activists who are not affiliated with political parties have decided to compete in the district council elections is a sign political parties have failed.

Members of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions take part in a pledge ceremony for candidates. Photo: Edmond So

Finally, political parties do not have an image of playing a constructive role in society. Filibustering by legislators has created a negative image while the failure of pro-government parties to support the election bill in June engendered an image of disunity.

It’s time for political parties to work out new strategies and regenerate themselves for the district council elections and beyond.

Sonny Lo is head of the department of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education