Generation 40s – 四十世代

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What could we expect from Hillary Clinton as US president?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Dan Steinbock

Dan Steinbock says under her administration, US economic erosion is likely to slow but imperial foreign policy may escalate, with critical repercussions in Asia

The polls reflect the new status quo. Despite her high unfavourability ratings, US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton now has the support of every second registered voter, whereas Republican rival Donald Trump, with his high unfavourability ratings, can only rely on every third voter.

Campaign financing tells a similar story. By early August, Clinton had raised US$365 million in big money financing, almost a third of it outside money. In contrast, Trump had barely US$100 million, only a tenth of it outside money. Four of every five dollars in the Clinton campaign have come from large corporations and Wall Street, big lobbyists and big unions, not ordinary Americans.

How did we get here? By suppressing the dissent of rival Bernie Sanders’ centre-left opposition in the Democratic convention, Clinton consolidated her leadership, while attracting some dissatisfied Republicans. But she later faced huge political headwinds as FBI director James Comey testified that she had shown “reckless” disregard with highly classified emails.

The public storm paved the way for a triumphant Republican convention, in which Trump could have sustained a semblance of unity. Instead, he stumbled by quarrelling about a US Muslim soldier killed in action, lost voters in several swing states and further polarised divisions in the party. The pessimists say Trump is now seeking to save face and is in talks with Republican leaders who would prefer a “third alternative”. Diehards believe Trump will stage a “fantastic” comeback.

Intriguingly, the shifts in the polls do not reflect voters’ perceptions about America’s direction and priorities. Most Americans believe the top priority in the election is the economy, while two-thirds believe the US is going in the wrong direction.

Here’s the contradiction: in November, most Americans will knowingly vote for a president they do not particularly like, don’t really trust and who they believe will continue to take America in the wrong direction.

If this comes to pass, what kind of economic and foreign policies will the Clinton administration adopt? Clinton has promised to create 10 million new jobs in America in the next four years. That does not require miracles. Thanks to demographics and output potential, the US economy should create some 200,000-250,000 new jobs on a monthly basis, which means 2.4-3 million annually, or 9.6-12 million new jobs in four years. Ironically, it could be undermined by the kind of assertive foreign policy that Clinton supports.

She has promised to expand programmes for poor Americans and to increase contributions from the prosperous. Her discretionary spending relies on US$1.1 trillion for infrastructure, universal preschool and tuition assistance, paid family leave and so on. To alleviate America’s income polarisation, she advocates a 4 per cent surtax on incomes above US$5 million, and raising rates on medium-term capital gains and estate tax rates to 45 per cent.

According to consensus estimates, Clinton’s plan could generate US$1.1 trillion in the next decade. However, it is a centrist plan that will not overcome US inequity. Drastic times call for greater ambition.

Today, the US economy faces a massive sovereign debt burden of US$19.4 trillion (105 per cent of gross domestic product). Nevertheless, Washington still lacks a credible, bipartisan, medium-term debt plan. Clinton believes that rising debt is a national security risk and her economic programme would reduce it in relative terms by 2026. Like Sanders, she would probably reduce the deficit through tax increases, with limited cuts to discretionary spending; unlike Sanders, she would not challenge Wall Street’s financial aristocracy or reduce military spending.

Consensus projections show that, by 2026, US debt will soar by half to US$29.3 trillion (106 per cent of GDP), assuming fairly ambitious real GDP growth of 1.7 per cent in the next decade. But it does not include downside risks, such as monetary exhaustion, immigration decline, recession or geopolitical crises. Instead, a less ambitious growth rate of 1.2 per cent would cause the debt-to-GDP ratio to climb to 115-120 per cent. This is comparable to the Greek debt burden on the eve of its sovereign crisis in 2009. The tiny Greek crisis shook Europe; the huge US debt crisis would rock the world.

Obama was widely expected to scale back America’s commitments overseas, particularly the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and shift responsibilities to allies. Instead, the US military is now actively engaged in more countries than when Obama took office.

In the Clinton era, US military policy would be more costly, assertive, and global; she is unlikely to cut military spending. While the US pivot to Asia began in Obama’s first term, it was first framed by Clinton, as secretary of state. In that role, she promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership; but to beat Sanders, she turned against it. As president, she might flip-flop again and support it. She also supported the shift of 60 per cent of US military ships to the Asia-Pacific – a decision that has toughened attitudes in China and contributed to increasing rearmament and conflict escalation in the region.

[A US fighter jet lands on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, amid a significant increase in US warships and aircraft deployed in Asia, sparking a tougher stance from China. Photo: AFP] A US fighter jet lands on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, amid a significant increase in US warships and aircraft deployed in Asia, sparking a tougher stance from China. Photo: AFPThat’s why neoconservative leaders have rallied behind Clinton. It’s also why 50 former Republican national security leaders recently slammed Trump, who would like to renegotiate US pacts with its allies. They want to ensure continuity of the US “military-industrial complex” and the expansive foreign policy – but Clinton will reap the political benefits.

Even after the global crisis and China’s growth deceleration, Asia may have generated wealth equivalent to twice that of Germany’s. In the 21st century, the world’s economic future will rely on peace in the region.

If the massive US military transfer is really meant for stabilisation, it will contribute to peace. If not, it will split the region, slow China’s rise and the catch-up of emerging Asia. That, in turn, could undermine the promise of the Asian Century.

Dr Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognised expert of the nascent multipolar world. He is also a guest fellow of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS). This commentary is based on his SIIS project on “China and the multipolar world economy”


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Free kindergarten education in Hong Kong is a welcome step towards language equality in class

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Alfred Chan

Alfred Chan says new policy support will strike at practices that discriminate against ethnic minority students, but government monitoring is needed

Since taking up the chairmanship of the Equal Opportunities Commission in April, I have emphasised my commitment to advancing equal opportunities for marginalised and underprivileged groups in society. One such group is ethnic minorities. Of particular concern are their education and employment opportunities. I recently heard the case of a Pakistani mother who went to a local kindergarten to get an admission form for her son. She spoke to a staff member through the intercom from outside the gate. After checking if either parent spoke Cantonese, which they did not, the staff member declined to give her a form. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Many ethnic minority parents have to knock on several kindergarten doors before finding a place.

Education Bureau figures for 2015-16 show that 44 per cent of kindergartens do not have non-Chinese-speaking students, while ethnic minority students are concentrated in a small number of kindergartens where the environment is less conducive to Chinese learning. We have been notified that more than a few practise one of several measures that prevent ethnic minority students from enjoying access to equal education opportunities. Some reportedly flatly refuse to admit ethnic minority children. Others choose to conduct interviews for applicants only in Cantonese or provide information exclusively in Chinese. Not only is this tarnishing Hong Kong’s image as a diverse, inclusive society, but the act may also be unlawful.

We have called on kindergartens to be open and inclusive in their admissions. Recently, we launched a booklet for schools, parents and students on promoting racial integration and preventing racial discrimination in schools. It provides essential guidelines, besides examples and suggestions, on the application of the Race Discrimination Ordinance in schools, particularly in the areas of language requirements in admissions, exercise of school rules with respect to religious practices and communication with ethnic minority parents.

Kindergartens justify their admission decision by citing the unavailability of language support for non-Chinese-speaking students in their schools. We don’t expect this justification to be valid for long. The government announced in the policy address the extension of the current 12 years of free education to 15 years, by introducing free kindergarten education from the 2017-18 academic year. We welcome the move.

Of particular interest to us is that the policy of free kindergarten education also includes support for children with diverse needs, which includes non-Chinese speakers and children with special educational needs. We believe both categories would benefit from the additional support. Non-Chinese speakers will gain substantially from any scheme that encourages kindergartens to integrate them into classes with their Chinese peers. As scholars point out, an integrated classroom has many benefits, including language acquisition. This is a significant benefit, especially given the dire state of Chinese language learning among non-Chinese-speaking students.

The Education Bureau should carefully monitor the implementation of the new policy to ensure fair admissions and adequate support for Chinese language learning, so more mainstream kindergartens are encouraged to admit non-Chinese speakers. It should also keep an eye out for inadvertent reverse segregation that may result. Some kindergartens might choose to take in more ethnic minority students due to the additional funding, which may lead to a rising concentration of non-Chinese-speaking students, again creating a ”segregated” environment.

An immersed classroom supported by additional language learning measures is expected to lead to non-Chinese speakers “mainstreaming” early in their school lives, thereby having a greater possibility of being on a par with their Chinese peers at the end of 15 years. That ideally should lead to a levelling of the playing field when it comes to access to higher education and finally employment. That will be the true test of whether Hong Kong actually lives up to its promise of providing equal opportunities to all, regardless of race, language or colour.

Professor Alfred C.M. Chan is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission

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Sexism at the Olympics: a charge that barely holds water

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Peter Kammerer

Peter Kammerer says while some remarks admittedly objectify women and demean their skills, sometimes the meaning falls through the generation gap

There has been a lot of buzz about the sexist media commentary at the Rio Olympics. So I scrolled through some of the examples and, frankly, wondered what all the fuss was about. Yes, there are remarks that objectify women or demean their athletic ability, but the outrage also seems, in a number of instances, to be misplaced.

I put it down to one of the following: either there’s a misperception of what sexism is; the world has become too politically correct; or, I am a throwback to an outdated generation.

Talk of catfights on the judo mats, how fitting it is for a woman athlete to have a body that is anything other than “tight” and focusing on fashion sense rather than performance is obviously not on.

Nor is it acceptable to infer that women’s sporting events are less important than those of men or that female spectators are watching not for the results “but the journey”, as US television network NBC said in defending a decision to delay some broadcasts to prime time.

It is also indisputable that the male-dominated sporting world has long referred to men in terms of strength, speed and greatness, while the performances of women have generally been gauged in the eyes of some according to age, marital status and pregnancy.

It hasn’t helped that there has always been unequal representation of women at the Olympics, although there are more at the Rio Games than ever before, 45 per cent of competitors.

But to me, the accusations of sexism are not always justified. There was outrage when a US presenter credited Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s new world record in the 400-metre individual medley to the skills of her coach and husband, American Shane Tusup.

That’s only a little sexist. While it needs talent, hard work and huge effort to pull off such a performance, there is no denying the athlete’s times have improved markedly since she took on her new coach in 2013.

I’m not so sure that it was wrong for another commentator to say that “a lot of people think that” American gold medallist Katie Ledecky “swims like a man”.

Live commentary isn’t easy and this remark doesn’t make sense; what was actually meant, that the athlete’s abilities are equal to those of male counterparts, is hardly demeaning.

Complaints that women athletes are at times referred to as “girls” can be readily countered with the fact that the men are sometimes called “boys” – and why not, as a good number of the participants are teenagers?

Men far outnumber women in commentary boxes, so it would be interesting to see what would happen with equality. The US editions of two popular American women’s magazines give a hint.

The Cosmopolitan website has a slideshow headed, “36 of the greatest Summer Olympics bulges”, which draws attention not to performances but genital endowment, while Elle has a feature, “Hot shirtless Olympic dude of the day”. Social media has drawn attention as much to the physiques of male athletes as females’.

Would we have taken as much notice of the unusual facial expressions of Chinese backstroke swimming specialist Fu Yuanhui after her bronze-medal-winning performance if she had been of the opposite gender? How much would we have cared had it been a male gymnast who broke down in tears after failing to win a medal rather than Shang Chunsong?

Both have become social media darlings and, with that sentence, perhaps I have shown myself to have an in-built sexist streak. I can’t help it and blame my upbringing, generation and the conservatism of the city in which I live.

With political correctness, it’s really a matter of being aware and then thinking before speaking. But as I know with my two adult sons and those from what is known as the millennial generation, there are different points of view and ways of thinking.

It’s why some comedians refuse to perform at university campuses or have social media accounts.

It’s why I find people of my mother’s generation racist and why I think the charges of Olympic sexism are overblown.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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Lesson for Hong Kong’s politicians: this is how you do a hunger strike

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Yonden Lhatoo

Yonden Lhatoo looks at the end of a remarkable woman’s 16-year hunger strike in India and contrasts that with local politicians’ feeble attempts at fasting

A piece of news this week that didn’t get much media attention or resonate in this part of the world was the end of a 16-year hunger strike by Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila.

Let me tell you a little about this remarkable woman, starting with her hometown, the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, a basket case of poverty, corruption and separatist violence.

Since the 1980s, dozens of heavily armed militant outfits fighting for causes ranging from independence and ethnic interests to extortion and plain old thuggery have been battling the might of the central government.

Shocking human rights abuses are common in this morass as the national army, paramilitary forces and state police try to wipe out rebels who strike at will and blend into the civilian population.

Sharmila’s non-violent struggle began in November 2000 when the slaughter of 10 young villagers by members of a paramilitary unit prompted her to protest against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which essentially gives men in uniform the power to arrest, torture and even kill with impunity, in the name of national security.

While state-sanctioned murder may not necessarily be illegal under such circumstances in the world’s biggest democracy, suicide is, so when the activist stopped eating and drinking, she was promptly arrested. Thanks to Indian law allowing for a maximum one year of incarceration for attempted suicide, it became a ritual for her to be force-fed in custody, have a court free her at the end of every 12 months, promptly restart her hunger strike, and be arrested all over again.

So she has spent most of her life since 2000 in a hospital room, with armed guards in attendance and a team of doctors and nurses forcibly pumping a sludgy cocktail of food and medicine through a pipe up her nose two to three times a day.

This week, she finally gave up the world’s longest fast. “I have not got anything from it yet,” she said, indicating that she might try something else – like politics.

We have hunger strikes here in Hong Kong too, but, by contrast, they’re feeble publicity attempts by veteran and budding politicians who are prone to separation anxiety when they’re kept away from food for too long.

Our so-called hunger strikes can be farcical exercises in futility, with the concept of marathon fasting morphing conveniently into a relay system, in which participants working in shifts pass on the starving baton to reinforcements while they take a break to tank up.

[Student leader Joshua Wong ends his hunger strike after 108 hours in December 2014. Photo: SCMP Pictures] Student leader Joshua Wong ends his hunger strike after 108 hours in December 2014. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Remember student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s “indefinite hunger strike” during the Occupy protests of 2014? It lasted all of four days, and he gave up citing “strong doctor’s advice” and “extreme physical discomfort”. Government officials sat it out, smug in the knowledge that it would never get to the stage where they would be forced to the negotiating table.

Democratic Party heavyweight Albert Ho Chun-yan, no pun intended, also staged an “indefinite hunger strike” for universal suffrage in 2014. It lasted all of 100 hours as a bout of “diarrhoea” combined with a “mild headache” prompted him to throw in the towel and pick up a plate.

This is not an attack on the heroes of the pan-democratic camp. At least they try to go hungry in the name of democracy on occasion. Their pro-establishment rivals should try it, too – for health reasons if not for politics. The amount of fasting involved in the cases of Wong and Ho was probably good for them in terms of detoxification.

My Muslim friends do it all the time as part of their faith. They tell me it rejuvenates your body and helps you think clearly.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post

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Hong Kong independence calls will die down once confidence in Beijing rises

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Gary Cheung

Gary Cheung believes the central government should restart the political reform process for the city to restore trust in ‘one country, two systems’

Nineteen years after the handover, why do so many Hong Kong people back the idea of independence?

This was the question a Beijing official asked outgoing Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing recently. I, too, have been asked similar questions by mainland officials and academics since the Mong Kok riot in February.

The results of a recent survey by the Chinese University’s journalism school, in which 17.4 per cent of Hongkongers said they believe the city should go independent after 2047, have sent shock waves across the community. What should we make of the findings?

Support for independence isn’t new. In a comparative survey on national identification held between 2005 and 2007, in collaboration with universities in Taiwan and Okinawa, Japan, the University of Hong Kong found that 25 per cent of Hongkongers polled backed independence.

What’s different today is the sentiment among young people. While only 26.4 per cent of those between 18 and 24 supported independence in the earlier poll, in the recent survey by Chinese University, nearly 40 per cent of respondents aged 15 to 24 supported independence.

It is a given that a considerable proportion of people in Hong Kong favour an identity distinct from mainland China, no matter what Beijing does. By contrast, the proportion of those who back independence goes up and down, depending on their confidence in Beijing’s handling of the city’s affairs.

Beijing was once sure that it would be able to win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers within 10 years of the handover. That’s the rationale behind setting 2007 in the Basic Law as the earliest possible date for implementing universal suffrage in the city. Obviously, the 500,000-strong July 1 march in 2003 against national security legislation proved Beijing’s original assessment was overly optimistic.

In order to stem the calls for full democracy, Beijing tightened its grip on Hong Kong and ruled out the introduction of “one man, one vote” for electing the chief executive in 2007. The central government’s stringent framework for electing the chief executive in 2017, under which only two or three candidates may run for the post, dealt another blow to Hong Kong people’s confidence in Beijing’s sincerity in implementing universal suffrage in the city. The storm over the mysterious disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers sparked concerns on whether “one country, two systems” has been compromised.

The best way to stem the proliferation of calls for Hong Kong independence is to boost Hongkongers’ confidence in “one country, two systems”. According to a tracking poll of the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme, 44.5 per cent of 1,007 Hongkongers surveyed in June said they had confidence in “one country, two systems”, a far lower percentage than the 77.5 per cent reported in April 2008, the all-time high since the poll was started in 1993. In particular, in June, only 17 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 29 said they had any confidence.

The growing appeal of the idea of independence among young people is attributable to the tension between the haves and the have-nots in the past decade. Many young people feel they are denied opportunities on all fronts under the existing political system, which mainly caters to the interests of the business and professional sectors.

Restarting the political reform process with the aim of introducing a fairer electoral system is the recipe for restoring Hongkongers’ confidence in “one country, two systems” and weakening calls for Hong Kong independence.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor