Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Ethnic minority gangs rampaging in Hong Kong: that’s what you get when you ignore reality

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Yonden Lhatoo

Yonden Lhatoo says the brazen knife attack at Jordan MTR station involving gangs of South Asians, including some asylum seekers, should ring alarm bells

I’m still having trouble getting my head around this. It’s just too much.

On Monday evening, during peak rush hour, passengers on a train pulling into Jordan MTR station were in for the shock of their lives. The doors opened, but no one dared venture out because there was a bloodbath on the platform.

While terrified passengers cowered inside the train, two gangs of South Asians fought a vicious battle on the platform with knives and fists. When it was all over, three men – identified as asylum seekers from India – were left with bloody wounds while eight to nine thugs who carried out the attack were nowhere to be found.

A police source told the Post the men involved were from India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Seriously, what’s going on in Hong Kong? How has it come to this?

We’ve always had organised crime in our city as far back as anyone can remember, but the gangsters and thugs who belong to triad societies are not in your face like this. They don’t normally mess with the man on the street and throw their weight around in public places. You could almost say they’re discreet.

Yes, of course, we have Chinese gang violence, but it happens at some dodgy dai pai dong or nightclub at ungodly hours, and law-abiding citizens going about their daily business don’t have to scurry for cover.

As in many other cities, I would say there’s a marriage of inconvenience between the authorities and mobsters here in the sense that because Hong Kong can’t wipe out organised crime per se, it tolerates these criminals to a certain extent as long as they operate underground and don’t cross the line.

But the brazenness of Monday’s violence suggests a new type of lawlessness that we are not used to. It’s the kind of thuggery I see on the Indian sub-continent, where institutionalised corruption among police and politicians breeds contempt for authority that manifests in open displays of criminal behaviour. It has no place in Hong Kong.

In my beat reporting days many years ago, when there was hardly any crime involving ethnic minorities, I raised the issue of growing delinquency among Nepalese youth to a senior police officer in Tsim Sha Tsui.

He laughed off my concerns, saying I should dig elsewhere for news. Hong Kong’s Nepalese residents enjoyed a good reputation in those days because they were mostly family members of Gurkha soldiers in the British army who were well respected.

But they were already becoming a mixed bunch, with Nepalese citizens gaining residency here by faking their identities through passports they had bought from the children of Gurkha soldiers returning home as the British garrison was drawing down.

It’s a similar story with Indian migrants in Hong Kong, a different demographic from the descendants of those who settled down in the city and prospered under British rule.

Many of them are asylum seekers who are forbidden to take up employment here, and among them are undesirables pretending to escape from non-existent political repression back home. Working as low-level drug dealers and cheap muscle on daily wages for triads has given them the experience and confidence to form their own gangs. These gangs prey on their own communities to fill a language-barrier gap that keeps Chinese mobsters from taking over. They also work in cahoots with dominant triad societies.

Alienated and ghettoised communities of long-time ethnic minority residents also offer a handy pool of “talent” for gang recruiters. There’s a whole underclass of frustrated and resentful Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese and other minorities out there. The temptation to make fast money is strong when you’re mired in a vicious cycle of poverty, racism and discrimination with no chance of upward mobility.

Those who refuse to acknowledge this expanding problem would do well to look at the findings of the first comprehensive analysis of the ethnic minority situation [7] in Hong Kong, unveiled this week.

It puts the spotlight on high school dropout rates and the increasing exclusion of non-Chinese residents, leading to a downward spiral of higher crime and deeper poverty. Among some alarming trends, it highlights a 41 per cent increase in serious drug offences and a 115 per cent surge in arrests for possession of arms and ammunition among ethnic minority youth from 2005 to 2014.

The writing is on the wall. We’ve spent the last few decades brushing everything under the carpet or burying our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not happening.

Do something before it’s too late.


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Hong Kong’s judicial independence is here to stay – as long as ‘one country’ and ‘two systems’ are both fully recognised

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Andrew Li

Andrew Li believes Hong Kong’s judicial independence and rule of law will thrive beyond 2047

This week will mark the official opening of the new premises of the Court of Final Appeal at the building which housed previously the Legislative Council and originally the Supreme Court. This is an event of great significance.

This will be the court’s permanent home. The renovations are of the highest standard. The community can be justly proud of it. With its central location, this historic monument will stand as a strong symbol of the continuing vigour of the rule of law with an independent judiciary in Hong Kong as part of China under “one country, two systems”. Under the rule of law, no one, however high his position, is above the law.

These are challenging times for our community. We are undergoing rapid changes – politically, socially and economically. In the process of change, the engagement and involvement of our young generation will be essential. In these uncertain times, it is all the more important that the rule of law with an independent judiciary should remain an unshakeable foundation of our society.

A statue of Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, is seen in the basement of Hong Kong’s new Court of Final Appeal building. Photo: EPA

This is an appropriate moment to reflect on the court’s progress over the last 18 years. The court must essentially be judged by the quality of its jurisprudence. It can confidently be claimed that its judgments are widely respected both within and outside Hong Kong where they are increasingly cited. The court has earned its place among final appellate courts around the globe. I believe that, with successive generations of judges, it will go from strength to strength.

The composition of the court has the unique feature of having an overseas judge. The court is made up of five judges. Four are Hong Kong judges: the chief justice and three permanent judges. (Where one of them is unavailable, his place is taken by a non-permanent Hong Kong judge chosen from the panel of retired Hong Kong judges.) The remaining judge is a non-permanent overseas judge selected from the panel which has consisted of eminent jurists from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These are the three jurisdictions with whose legal traditions Hong Kong has the closest affinity. Although the remaining judge can be a non-permanent Hong Kong judge, a convention has been established since 1997 that an overseas judge would be selected.

From time to time, reservations have been expressed by some commentators, including academics in mainland China, as to the presence of the overseas judge. One mainland academic expressed the view that all judges of the court should be Chinese nationals with the right of abode in Hong Kong. Recently, another opined that the feature of the overseas judge should be regarded as a transitional arrangement for 50 years. I understand these views. But I respectfully do not agree with them.

It is important to emphasise two matters. First, the overseas judge swears the same judicial oath as any Hong Kong judge: To uphold the Basic Law, to bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and to administer justice without fear or favour. When he sits, he is discharging his duties as and only as a Hong Kong judge in our own times and circumstances. Secondly, he is one member of a collegiate court. The five judges may end up in agreement or disagreement. Each judge is independent and makes an essential contribution. No judge enjoys any special position in judicial decision-making.

The arrangement of the participation of an overseas judge cannot be regarded as any infringement of China’s sovereignty or Hong Kong’s autonomy. In fact, it is by the exercise of sovereignty (by permitting this in the Basic Law ) and autonomy (by making the arrangements) that he is invited to sit.

It is in the best interests of Hong Kong as part of China under “one country, two systems” to have an overseas judge on its final appellate court. First, his participation ensures that the court benefits from comparative perspectives and experience. Secondly, it is an arrangement which has gained the confidence of the public as well as that of the international community. Thirdly, it is conducive to enhancing confidence in the independence of our judiciary. I believe that the participation of the overseas judge should be regarded as a lasting feature of the court. It must be acknowledged that the arrangement is a unique one. But so is the great concept of “one country, two systems”.

In reflecting on the past 18 years, a special feature of the new order should be referred to. As the court had held, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has the plenary power to interpret the Basic Law and any interpretation is binding on the courts in Hong Kong. This power is expressly provided for in the Basic Law and reflects the provision in the Chinese constitution empowering the Standing Committee to interpret laws.

Under the Basic Law, our courts are authorised to interpret it. But the court has the duty to refer the interpretation of the excluded provisions to the Standing Committee. Those provisions are those concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the central government, that is, essentially defence and foreign policy and those concerning the relationship between the central authorities and the region.

Since 1997, the Standing Committee has issued four interpretations: one, in 1999, to override the court’s judgment in the right of abode cases; two, in 2004, to lay down the process for political reform; three, in 2005, to deal with the length of the chief executive’s term; and four, in 2011, upon a judicial reference by the court, to deal with the doctrine of state immunity. The second and third interpretations were issued in the absence of any legal proceedings.

The right of abode episode was very controversial. I believe that it provided a salutary experience in the formative years of the new order. The episode has led to a consensus in Hong Kong and, I believe, also in Beijing that apart from an interpretation of an excluded provision made on a judicial reference by the court, the Standing Committee’s power to interpret should only be exercised in the most exceptional circumstances.

In any event, as I have publicly stated, the Standing Committee should refrain from exercising its power to override a court judgment in Hong Kong, especially one of the Court of Final Appeal. Although it would be legally valid and binding, such an interpretation would have an adverse effect on judicial independence in Hong Kong. I believe that this view is widely shared in Hong Kong. However, my understanding is that it is not shared by the authorities in Beijing. They consider that an interpretation even after a court judgment could be justified in very exceptional circumstances and this should not adversely affect judicial independence in Hong Kong.

The Basic Law contains no sunset clause whereby it will automatically cease to have any effect on June 30, 2047. But it provides that the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years. This reflects the 1984 Joint Declaration in which China stated that its basic policies regarding Hong Kong will remain unchanged for 50 years.

The destiny of Hong Kong is and will forever be as part of China. Photo: Nora Tam

We are already past the one-third mark of the 50 years. The future after 2047 will be an internal matter for China. I believe that it will have to be settled in the early 2030s. Extensive discussion and consultation will be required. The coming 10-15 years in the run-up to those discussions will be very important.

The destiny of Hong Kong is and will forever be as part of China. In the governance of Hong Kong, the sovereignty of China must always be fully respected. It is always important to remember that “one country” as well as “two systems” are essential and integral parts of the formula. So long as this is fully recognised, I have every confidence and expectation that Hong Kong as part of China will continue to enjoy our own system and that the rule of law with an independent judiciary will continue to thrive in the coming years and beyond 2047.

The honourable Andrew Li Kwok-nang was first chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal from 1997 to 2010

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China and the US must anchor their relationship on sound economics to drive 21st-century globalisation

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Andy Xie

Andy Xie says the world needs China and the US to base their relationship on a shared economic vision

The US Federal Reserve, citing concerns over a slowing Chinese economy, decided not to raise interest rates last week. It came as a shock to the financial markets. Investors and economic experts in the West didn’t think China would have that much of an impact.

China has essentially pegged its currency to the dollar for two decades. As both economies are quite open, they have inevitably become entangled. One underappreciated point is how important China has been to the profitability of multinational companies. For many tangible products, China has become the largest market in the world. Moreover, as China encourages production through cheap capital, free land and low taxes, foreign companies have been able to charge a premium on anything that China couldn’t make.

How the 21st century pans out depends on how China and the US relate to each other. If they form an effective partnership, the globalisation that began after the cold war will continue, and the resulting income gains would enable the world to deal with poverty, global warming, ageing, pandemics and other looming global crises.

If the two become adversaries and engage in a new cold war, the world may suffer stagnation for decades to come.

President Xi Jinping is visiting the US this week. There are many thorny issues on the table, including cybersecurity, the South China Sea and the extradition of people wanted by the Chinese government. But far more important is for both countries to anchor their relationship on sound economics. It is virtually impossible to resolve all their differences now. But, if the economics works, other issues will resolve themselves over time.

The US has been the ultimate source of demand for almost every economy since the second world war. With exceptionally high national indebtedness and a low savings rate, however, it can’t do the same in the future. Still, the US remains the source of new technologies that drive productivity gains; that is, corporate America has the capability to reap high profitability in the global economy.

China, with its vast population and high savings rates, is clearly the source of demand in the future. That has been the case in commodities over the past 15 years, but not in consumer products. If the global economy is to have another boom, it has to realise this potential in China’s economy. China has gained huge market share in the global economy, and has distributed its income gains disproportionately in fixed asset investments. That has led to insufficient demand and excess supply in the global economy. The current difficulties largely reflect this imbalance.

The US, by contrast, has relied excessively on financial capitalism – to the detriment of others. Its extended period of zero interest rates has sparked financial speculation that has damaged emerging economies most. To remain the leading economic force in the world, the US must abandon financial capitalism.

During Xi’s visit, the most useful agenda should be how the global economy, especially with respect to the top two, should be managed. The recurring crises demonstrate that the existing way of managing things – everyone for himself – is not working. The Fed’s prolonged zero interest rates laid the seed for today’s market turmoil [4], while Japan’s strategy of yen devaluation has undermined China’s renminbi peg to the dollar, which could push the world into a global currency war.

China and the US have been counting on signing a bilateral investment treaty to further the economic relationship. It would be a step forward. However, as the sentiment towards China in Washington deteriorates, this doesn’t look likely. This is a pity. We need something to reverse the downward spiral in the bilateral relationship. Without the treaty, there is nothing else to reverse the trend.

Xi Jinping attends a welcome banquet jointly hosted by Washington state government and community groups in Seattle. Photo: Xinhua

The two governments must do something extraordinary to anchor their relationship in the 21st century. They should pursue a free trade agreement based on restricting what each can do in their domestic economy.

China has become the world’s second-largest economy. What it does at home is of global concern. Its government power in mobilising resources for investment has become a major factor in causing insufficient demand globally. It has kept inflation too low, which has prompted major central banks to keep interest rates exceptionally low, sparking massive speculation across the globe. For any international agreement to be meaningful, China’s government power in the economy must be defined and limited.

As for the US, since the dollar is the reserve currency for the global economy, its monetary and fiscal policies are of global concern too. Without due consideration for others, US policies would undermine their interests. In an interconnected world, this could come back to harm the US itself. The Fed, for example, shouldn’t move interest rates up or down rapidly; that would only increase speculative activity and threaten further globalisation. It should shift to fiscal policy for economic management.
READ MORE: HKMA warns US will soon raise interest rates despite US Fed staying put for now [5]

The bilateral relationship is drifting dangerously. What’s keeping the situation from spiralling out of control is the unimaginable cost of a rupture. This economic equivalent of the military strategy of “mutually assured destruction” is currently holding the two countries and, by extension, the global economy together. Nonetheless, as each side takes defensive action, the strategy will lose its power over time.

If China and the US don’t take bold action to anchor the bilateral relationship, a rupture is inevitable. When that happens, it will bring to an end this phase of globalisation. The world would certainly be worse off.

Andy Xie is an independent economist

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Hong Kong should invest in training local teachers for better English, rather than relying on its outdated native speaker scheme

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says the alarming fall in English standards in Hong Kong means we must rethink rote learning in schools and the out-of-date native-speaking English teacher programme

With 91 per cent of people polled by the Post agreeing that English standards are slipping in Hong Kong, what do we do about it? Two weeks ago, I sat on the stage next to politician Michael Tien Puk-sun at the Redefining Hong Kong debate, my heart pounding. Here was my chance to tell everyone the urgency of the matter, to play a small part in hopefully saving Hong Kong. In my mind, that’s what this debate on declining English standards boils down to – how to stop Hong Kong’s decline into irrelevance and ensure its future success.

Instrumental to that success is having a high standard of English. Our economy must diversify. How many tech executives from San Francisco have I had over to dinner at my house this past year, only to watch them each shake their head at the possibility of setting up their Asia headquarters in Hong Kong. “But why?” I’d ask. “What’s Singapore got that we haven’t got?” English, they’d say.

This breaks my heart. In the past 10 years, while Singapore and Shanghai have invested heavily to beef up their English standards, we have slipped by being complacent. We’ve allowed 90 per cent of local primary schools to be taught almost exclusively in Cantonese. For the few schools that do teach in English, we’ve set the bar pitifully low for the teachers’ English ability. Currently in most local schools, a subject teacher needs only to have got a D in English in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination to teach various subjects using English.

Ten years later, what do we see? Our university graduates’ salaries have plummeted by 20 per cent to HK$10,000 a month, compared with 20 years ago. Our tourist-reliant retail sector is drying up. Tying ourselves to China’s economy is not the panacea it once was. It’s time to see the writing on the wall.

To raise our English standard, the first step is to change the way English is being taught in local schools, starting at the primary level. We need to move away from dictation and rote memorisation, which are antiquated and ineffective, to discussion-based and project-based learning. We need to emphasise creativity, critical thinking, leadership and entrepreneurship.

At the same time, we have to gradually increase the amount of time primary school students spend learning in English. To do this, we need to raise their teachers’ standard of English by first investing in teacher training and later raising the English requirement for teachers.

We can pay for this by breaking up the Native-speaking English Teacher programme, which costs the government about HK$710 million a year and is ineffective. Schools need more than just a token Caucasian teacher. The money would be better spent on training the existing teachers to lead discussions, inspire creative thinking and sharpen writing skills. It would also be better spent on English reading programmes for kids.

And here, the entire community can step in. When I was growing up in the United States, I would get a free pizza from Pizza Hut for every 10 books I read. I was an excellent pizza eater: thanks to this scheme, I ate my way through hundreds of books.

Recently in Iowa, US, a barber started giving free haircuts to kids as long as they read to him. We need more people and programmes like that in Hong Kong. Before you roll your eyes and say “good luck with that”, consider this: Hong Kong’s declining competitiveness affects us all. No one here is immune to this debacle, not even the tycoons.

And it’s not just our economy that’s at stake; it’s our identity, too. We pride ourselves on being not just another mainland city. But what does that mean? Does it mean being able to speak good Putonghua? No. Does it mean having our own dialect? Plenty of other Chinese cities have that, like Shanghai and Chengdu . To me, being uniquely Chinese means being international, open minded, and a melting pot of ideas and people. For that, we need to raise our standard of English – fast.

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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Eight reasons Hong Kong should increase university tuition fees

South China Morning Post

Richard Wong

Local university fees have been frozen since 1997, while there are spaces for only one of every four applicants

Since 1997 the annual tuition fees that undergraduate students pay at universities funded through the University Grants Committee have been frozen at HK$42,100. Government tuition policy seeks to recover 18 per cent of the recurrent provision for undergraduate education. By implication, the government has also not increased the funding it provides per student to the universities.

University tuition fees are soaring in most countries. In the US, a household with median income had to spend 8.4 per cent of its income to send one child to a public university in 1995, and 17.4 per cent by 2015.

In Hong Kong, by contrast, the trend has moved in the opposite direction. A household with median income had to spend 20 per cent of its income to send one child to a public university in 1997, but only 14.9 per cent by 2015. If government grants for families without means are factored in, then the percentages were 12.3 per cent in 1997 and 11.3 per cent in 2015.

In 2015, students received an average grant of HK$10,364 against $16,168 in 1997-98. This amount has declined over time, presumably because there are fewer qualified families.

Low tuition fees reduces parents’ burden, but what are its consequences? And is this good policy?

Parents and students in Hong Kong are under a lot of pressure to score well in public examinations in order to get into the university. This pressure is not unique to Hong Kong, but it is particularly intense here because of two related factors: the unusually high private rates of return of a university education and the limited number of subsidised places (approximately 60,000 students compete for 15,000 places each year).

In 2001 the private rates of return were 20.8 per cent, which increased to 23.6 per cent by 2011. This is much better than the 40-year performance of even Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Such unusually high rates of return are seldom found in rich economies and only occasionally in some undeveloped economies. For example, the estimated rates of return in the US are 15.1 per cent, in Australia 14.1 per cent, in South Korea 12.7 per cent, in the UK 11.9 per cent, in Singapore 10.3 per cent, in Canada 8.2 per cent, and in Japan 7.4 per cent.

Hong Kong’s very high rates of return generate multiple consequences. First, parents and children are misled to overestimate their suitability for university education and strive too hard to get into a subsidised university place.

Second, public examinations become the only acceptable means for allocating scarce public university places.

Third, highly in-demand for-profit institutions crop up that tutor students to prepare for examinations and aim to capture part of the gains from the unusually high private rates of return to university education.

Fourth, some parents are transformed into monster parents who focus on supervising homework and preparing children for tests, rather than engaging in other productive activities.

The new subject of liberal studies intended to develop critical thinking is becoming just another examination subject. Students are drilled to provide different points of view to give the appearance they have critical thinking. I fear it only teaches students confusingly many points of view, all valid to some extent, free to choose whichever one they like as they do on Facebook, and abandon the relentless pursuit of truth that is the central purpose of why a person should develop critical thinking. Making liberal studies a pass or fail examination subject would restore the fun back into liberal studies.

Fifth, low tuition fees are in effect an implicit subsidy that benefits mostly better-off families, who can afford to pay more. Moreover, the children of higher- and middle-income families have a better chance of entering university than lower-income families. This results in a perverse effect on intergenerational mobility.

Sixth, the high subsidies for university education place a heavy burden on public expenditure, making it difficult for government to increase university places. As a consequence, further expansion of university places has to take the form of self-funded degree programmes.

Seventh, students with better ability (as proxied by public examination scores) are subsidised, but those with lower ability are not, which will worsen income distribution.

Eighth, the high rates of return make successful candidates less demanding of the type and quality of education they receive at university.

Raising tuition fees could alleviate many of these ills. When every child spends a dozen years cramming for examinations, one has to seriously question if they are being properly prepared for the future.

Raising tuition fees need not and indeed should not disadvantage students from less well-off families given enhancements to the existing grant and loans scheme. Higher fees only means that well-off families would have to pay more.

The additional fees could be used to finance transfers to less well-off families and expand the number of subsidised university places. Both effects would lower the rate of return to university education. Government spending on university education would most likely increase, but in a way that fosters greater efficiency and equity.

Richard Wong Yue-chim is Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong