Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Change is needed, on all sides, before Hong Kong can move on from the political deadlock

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Ronny Tong

Ronny Tong calls on Hong Kong to make the first move to build a working relationship with Beijing

Of all the questions many of us are currently asking, there is one which nobody seems to be prepared to answer: what is going to happen after the political reform package proposed by the Hong Kong government is vetoed? Few people seem to care. But it is a legitimate, some even say a pertinent, question to ask at this point in time.

Granted, the current reform package is wholly unacceptable, and the community is deeply divided on this. What would happen in the future if we had a chance to revisit the issue of universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive? Would we learn from our mistakes next time round?

I do not think it meaningful to engage in a debate as to the pros and cons of the current reform package, as its failure is already a foregone conclusion. But what about after the veto? What then?

The answer is, in my view, very simple: change. We need to change our ways; we need to change our mindset; and we need to also somehow change the mindset of Beijing.

It will not be easy; but if we fail, my guess is that not only would we not achieve genuine democracy any time soon, but also, we may even see the demise of “one country, two systems”. In fact, it is precisely because “one country, two systems” is faltering that we are looking at the failure of political reform.

At the heart of the differences between Beijing and many people in Hong Kong, including in particular the pan-democrats, is the wide disparity in the appreciation of the concept of “one country, two systems” and how the Basic Law works. Beijing regards “one country, two systems” as a major compromise in return for the resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong, including the pan-democrats, see it as a promise for full and complete autonomy.

Beijing considers the right to deny an unsuitable person (in its view) the post of Hong Kong chief executive as the last substantive right in its exercise of sovereign power over Hong Kong, while we think the election method in relation to the chief executive is but a fulfilment of the promise of “two systems”.

The trouble is, we never got the chance to seriously tackle this gulf of understanding – or misunderstanding – between Beijing and Hong Kong. In fact, I dare say, without a broad consensus overcoming these differences, any political reform is doomed to fail.

You may ask, how may we bridge this gulf? To start with, we have to engage Beijing, and gain its confidence. I do not for one moment believe Hong Kong people will elect someone who cannot work with Beijing. What are we to gain by doing that? We need a stable and non-contentious environment to develop Hong Kong to its fullest potential. We need the support of a caring mainland China. Why would we elect someone who might have difficulty discharging all of his duties and functions with regard to Beijing under the Basic Law?

Unfortunately, Beijing does not think in these terms. It sees a people who disagree with everything it says or does, on every level. It has minimum contacts with the pan-democrats and does not see the need to keep in touch; or it just simply feels it does not want to deal with people who vilify it every day. This state of affairs has to change.

We, as well as Beijing, have got to learn to tolerate each other’s apparent shortcomings and live with each other as necessary partners. As a start, we have to have regular contact with each other. This is not appeasement or kowtowing in any sense. It is a way to improve relations and a start to narrowing the differences between us, before Hong Kong can talk about how to push democracy forward without causing undue alarm in the Beijing administration.

It is also important to accept the Basic Law as it is. This is because Beijing looks upon any deviation from the Basic Law as an indication of unwillingness to subscribe to the concept of “one country, two systems”.

In any event, there is no rational reason why one should feel unduly unhappy about the Basic Law. It is a constitutional document which safeguards many of our core values and rights. It is a bargain made at the time of the handover and we owe much of our current way of life to the provisions in this mini-constitution.

I always ask myself the rhetorical question: which provision in the Basic Law is wholly unacceptable? Even Article 45, the provision stipulating the need for a nominating committee in the nomination of candidates for chief executive, is, by itself, not contrary to ordinary standards of democracy. The best proof is that in 2013, I put forward a proposal fully complying with Article 45 and still won the approval of international experts on democracy as being in line with universal standards.

In truth, there is no inherent conflict between developing democracy in Hong Kong and the concept of “one country, two systems”.

If anything, it is not the provision itself which disappoints Hong Kong people in the debate on political reform, but the interpretation put on the provision.

The fault, if one can put it as such, is not the Basic Law but how we carry out the provisions without prior minimum consensus. This is a question of a difference of approach and the understanding of the Basic Law.

You may ask, why do we have to change and not Beijing? Well, that may be a reasonable question, but perhaps the answer lies in the fact that a change of our mindset may lead to a similar change of mindset on the part of Beijing. Someone has to make a first move.

It is perhaps because neither side is willing to give way first that we have reached our present impasse and will see the eventual failure of political reform. There has to be change. Or we will face repeated failure. The choice is in our hands.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah is a directly elected legislator and member of the Civic Party


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Freedom of speech no justification for insults directed at gay Hong Kong lawmaker Raymond Chan

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Marco Wan

Marco Wan says our right to free speech does not extend to statements intended to erode a person’s intrinsic value as a human being

The video of two women hurling homophobic insults at legislator Raymond Chan Chi-yuen sparked widespread condemnation but there have also been voices defending the speakers’ right to express their views. This incident raises interesting questions about the nature and function of the right to freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. All common law jurisdictions recognise that there are limits to what one can say in public, even though they differ on what those limits are. Defamatory speech, for example, can be legally proscribed: one cannot go around making false statements against someone which damages his or her reputation.

A key reason why the law imposes limitations is the concept of dignity. The roots of dignity can be traced back to at least as far as the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant. At its simplest, “dignity” refers to the intrinsic worth that all individuals possess by virtue of their common status as human beings. Since all individuals have the same intrinsic worth, we should show respect for the equal dignity of other people.

For Kant, a person’s dignity is “unconditional”, meaning it does not vary depending on factors such as race, class, gender or sexual orientation. This conception of equal dignity forms the basis of anti-discrimination law, and indeed much of human rights law.

Dignity is helpful for understanding where the limits to freedom of speech should be drawn. Statements intended to demean or devalue others due to something as fundamental to their identity as sexuality go against the spirit of the freedom of speech, because it is at odds with the concept of equal dignity.

In this light, the right to freedom of speech does not protect defamatory statements because they undermine the inherent self-worth of the people who have been defamed, lessening society’s regard for them and planting doubt about their personal integrity.

It is for a similar reason that the homophobic verbal abuse directed at Chan, expressed simply to debase a person, should not be justified in the name of freedom of speech. Emasculating slurs are of course offensive, but the problem goes deeper: they are also deliberately intended to harm another person by eroding his dignity. They exist for no reason but to humiliate, disgrace and shame someone because of who he is. They constitute a blatant refusal to acknowledge the humanity of another person.

The speakers are treating someone as a second-class human being. There cannot be a more direct affront to the notion of equal dignity, and the way Hong Kong reacts to such insults reflects the dignity of the society in which we live.

Marco Wan is an associate dean at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong

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Once again, speculation fever hits Hong Kong’s resident scalpers

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Yonden Lhatoo

Yonden Lhatoo despairs at the number of people who try to turn a quick profit on tickets, gadgets, stamps – and, most recently, HSBC banknotes

So let me get this straight. HSBC has printed two million HK$150 banknotes and is selling them for HK$380 each. And the good people of Hong Kong practically climbed over one another to get their hands on them.

They had to enter a lottery first to earn the privilege of being selected to buy these notes at prices more than double their face value, and then lined up for hours to pick them up.

Is it just me or is there something ludicrous about this? HSBC must be laughing all the way to the – well, bank. OK, the profits will go to charity, so that makes this circus all right then.

But the point is, this peculiar exercise highlights what I consider to be a scourge of Hong Kong and the wider world: the culture of scalping.

What most people are after is the set of three uncut notes going for HK$1,380 or the sheet of 35 uncut notes costing HK$23,880. They expect to at least double their investment by scalping their purchases on internet platforms targeting cash-rich mainlanders. Some are already charging HK$108,000 on the Taobao auction site for a set of 35 notes.

When the notes were distributed at the Convention and Exhibition Centre on Tuesday, mainland touts were already gathered in the lobby to pounce on the buyers. For the past three days, they’ve been creating a public nuisance by hawking their goods and clogging up human traffic on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world – the Immigration Tower footbridge. Apart from the handful of genuine collectors at such events, the vast majority were just locals trying to make a fast buck.

This happens every time Apple releases a new gadget, and manifests into criminal behaviour when some flavour-of-the-month pop star comes to town.

I sympathised with Hong Kong’s Lady Gaga fans back in 2012 when ticket scalpers were making life a living hell for them. I wouldn’t watch her concerts for free, but, putting my personal prejudices aside, I can understand how frustrating it must have been for the fans.

It’s the same year after year at the Rugby Sevens, when fans from all over the world travel to Hong Kong to be fleeced by touts and fraudsters. It’s a blight on our city’s reputation.

As we’ve seen at the Sevens, the culprits are not poor people but well-heeled rugby club members and corporate types who snap up their share of allocated tickets and go and scalp them online or through brokers. Ticket scalping is illegal in Hong Kong, but that’s no deterrent when instant profits eclipse the statutory fine of HK$2,000.

Our city takes this unsavoury phenomenon to new heights, with organised syndicates hiring gangs of South Asians to stand in lines, and housewives sending out their domestic helpers to do the dirty work in the heat and rain.

One way to curb the practice is to simply ramp up supply to meet demand, as the Post Office was forced to do when speculation over special edition stamps went out of control in the late 1990s.

There’s nothing wrong with people trying to make some extra money, but there should be limits. It’s not something to be proud of when people involve their children or entire families in wholesale scalping and price gouging. Greed is not good, folks.

I’ve heard the reverse side of the argument. After all, doesn’t most of basic global commerce boil down to scalping at the end of the day? Buy cheap and sell dear – that’s what all retailers do. It’s what drives the stock market and the property business.

But what happened to making money through productivity and creativity? What happened to innovation, to actually making something that’s worth buying, and contributing to society?

And to all of you who are not collectors yourselves but are the proud owners of these HK$150 banknotes: I hope you end up having to actually spend them one day and you get your money’s worth – HK$150 to be precise.

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Can Hong Kong embrace the technology revolution in global finance?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

David Lynch

David Lynch says Hong Kong must compete aggressively in the financial technology sector to stay on top

Hong Kong’s position as an international financial centre is under major threat. The liberalisation of policies on the mainland is diminishing many of Hong Kong’s traditional advantages. Arbitrage opportunities are reducing. Other international financial centres are competing aggressively for cross-border renminbi flows. Regulations are tightening.

While Hong Kong is home to some of the best bankers in the world, the future will be decided instead by a new form of competition. The new battleground is financial technology.

Banks face a simple choice – either adapt and compete, or face extinction. Can Hong Kong re-invent itself to retain its position, with so many new business models attacking traditional players?

Banks in Hong Kong have enjoyed margins unimaginable in most industries. To a nimble start-up, that equals opportunity. Banks have historically been obsessed with benchmarking among themselves. But this time, the threat isn’t traditional competition. A new breed of players is entering. These companies are built in the cloud. They are mobile first. They are technology, social or e-commerce players largely unencumbered by policy and regulation. These new players are able to arbitrage their own massive scale and customer reach to create new revenue streams.

Incredible advances in data science and artificial intelligence are creating new models for banking services. They are not burdened by the myriad of legacy systems, layers of procedures and controls, or expensive physical distribution networks and call centres that virtually every bank must manage.

A decade ago, most would think it unimaginable that the likes of Alibaba, Apple, eBay (PayPal), Google and Tencent would be in the business of providing financial services. While these companies were creating entirely new ways of delivering financial services, banks focused mostly on how to put traditional banking on a mobile platform and enhancing internet capabilities. It is hard to find an example of a bank that has succeeded to the extent of these new players.

Banking and financial services sit right at the heart of Hong Kong’s economy, accounting for approximately 15 per cent of gross domestic product. None of the new technology players mentioned here are domiciled in Hong Kong. However, we are seeing the emergence of a new wave of local financial technology start-ups as well as foreigners choosing to launch their business here, attracted by the many advantages Hong Kong still enjoys.

In his bestselling book on dealing with change, Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson described two characters, Hem and Haw, who reacted differently to the disappearance of their store of cheese. While Hem feels victimised and decides to sulk, Haw goes out boldly in search of new cheese. It is time for Hong Kong’s banking system to be like Haw. The financial cheese has moved.

Hong Kong has many of the essential ingredients needed to lead in financial technology, including best-in-class infrastructure, transport, telecoms coverage and bandwidth, and a sound legal environment, especially protection of intellectual property rights.

Change is in Hong Kong’s DNA. It has always adapted. Having said that, why is it that we don’t yet have a local Hong Kong technology hero like Jack Ma or Elon Musk? When will Hong Kong see its first financial technology “unicorn”, that is, a start-up company valued at over a billion dollars?

Hong Kong must nurture a new generation of talent who are willing to take risks and not simply pursue a safe career path. The youth of today cannot live by the methods of their forefathers. Digital leadership demands very different skills. Hong Kong has a void of programming skills. Creative talent is scarce. Few high school graduates aspire to be a user-experience designer or customer-experience professional, and many are actively discouraged from these professions by their parents. Even fewer are encouraged to be entrepreneurs. Arts and humanities have been largely stifled.

Instead, students are given the hope of attaining the salaries or trading incomes of their forefathers by following the traditional paths of finance, economics, business or actuarial studies. Diversity in Hong Kong’s talent base is missing – an essential ingredient for success in financial technology.

Financial services, and financial technology especially, are critical to the current and future success of Hong Kong. But the formula for success is far more complicated now and requires a world-class financial technology ecosystem to be developed, leveraging Hong Kong’s core strengths.

David Lynch is managing director and head of technology & operations, Hong Kong and mainland China, at DBS Bank (Hong Kong)

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Open Hong Kong must not tolerate discrimination against migrants

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Peter Kammerer

Peter Kammerer says prejudice against outsiders, particularly the outright hostility against mainland migrants, shames us as a society

Newcomers to any society usually have a tough time fitting in. Hong Kong makes it especially difficult for mainlanders. While those from the West are generally welcomed, those from places seen as less sophisticated are looked down upon. Call it snobbery, arrogance or discrimination, but it is not what should be expected of “Asia’s world city”.

A recent study of 1,038 migrants from the mainland revealed how uncaring we can be. Although Chinese in a city that is 95 per cent of the same ethnicity and mostly able to speak Cantonese, the majority lived as outsiders. The Institute of Education survey showed that nearly 57 per cent perceived daily discrimination, 60 per cent believed Hong Kong people were intolerant towards new immigrants, and 66 per cent thought locals misunderstood and held biases towards them.

As a result, more than nine in 10 had not participated in community activities in the six months before the poll and just 12 per cent felt they were Hongkongers.

There is arguably nothing unusual about such figures for any big city. I don’t have statistical comparisons for New York, London or Paris, but know from friends who have lived in these cities that they can be equally inhospitable. Part of it is down to the rush of life, which gives the perception that people are cold. But the best opportunities are also in such places and that leads to higher housing costs, bigger disparities in income and a sense among some that they have reached the top. Hardly surprising, then, that there are those with superior attitudes.

Anyone who makes an effort to fit in will tell otherwise, of course. But that may not be so easy when a community is against you. The hostility that mainland boy Siu Yau-wai has encountered since his grandmother revealed how he had been living illegally in hiding for nine years shows how rabid some of us can get. Even though he had been brought here aged three and this was the only home he had known, protesters railed at a school’s offer of an entrance test. A voluntary decision for his return to the mainland was met with cries of victory.

Domestic helpers are daily looked down upon and those from the subcontinent are often treated less than equally. An inability to adequately communicate also keeps some groups apart; it is why many foreigners prefer their own kind. In such circumstances, it is easy to claim that integration is difficult.

Our government has a role: it can improve job prospects and assure education. Individuals and families also have to make an effort to avoid becoming isolated by getting involved in communities. Complaining about not knowing who neighbours are is of little use if no effort is made to even say “good morning”. But the most effort has to be made by Hongkongers.

Refugees and migrants built Hong Kong. They came in search of a better life. It is shameful that they and their offspring should deny the same for others – particularly those from the same country.

In a fast-ageing society like ours, the doors should be open wide. Daniel Bell, a philosophy professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, gave a good reason why, pointing to the Confucian saying that exemplary people should value harmony over uniformity.

“Harmony here means respect for, if not celebration of, diversity in the context of peaceful order,” the author of The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, told me. “New migrants that promise to enrich social life should be welcomed, so long as social order can be maintained.”

It is a philosophy all in Hong Kong should live by.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post