Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong is not America, so keep religion out of politics

CommentInsight & Opinion
Yonden Lhatoo takes exception to the leading candidate in Hong Kong’s chief executive election openly flaunting her faith in an already divided secular city


Talk about special preference for Hong Kong. For all its misgivings about religion – the Catholic Church in particular – Beijing is on the verge of allowing a borderline Bible thumper to be installed as our city’s next leader.

We’re talking about Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the former No 2 official who – barring a Donald Trump-style upset – is most likely to emerge the winner in the small-circle election to pick the next chief executive come March.

She raised more than just a few eyebrows last week when she told a gathering of senior civil servants that “God” had told her to run for the top job.

“God told me …” There’s something about those three words that make most sensible people’s eyes glaze over unless they’re listening to a religious sermon with a willing suspension of disbelief. Or unless they’re voters in America, where it’s a prerequisite to profess your unquestioning adherence to the Judeo-Christian faith if you’re running for president.

Remember poor Barack Obama and how he had to publicly disavow his Muslim roots – like there’s something toxic about Islam. And his predecessor George W. Bush, who openly flaunted his purported faith – to the extent that he declared he was on a mission from God to justify some of the worst atrocities in human history.

“God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did,” he was once quoted as telling the Palestinians.

It’s easy to ridicule people who like to talk loudly about God, but it’s also pointless when they’re so deeply ensconced in their beliefs. So rather than take cheap shots at Lam, allow me to point out some pertinent facts.

Granted, Christianity enjoys a far higher profile than any other religion in Hong Kong, a status quo that can be attributed to the city’s British colonial past. That’s why we have three public holidays for Easter and another two for Christmas, as opposed to only one for the Buddha’s birthday and zero for Muslims.

But let’s not forget that while the focus is blatantly skewed towards Christianity, it is not Hong Kong’s main religion. The vast majority of the 7.3 million who live in this city follow Chinese traditional religious beliefs, which can be a mishmash of Taoism, Buddhism, folklore-based faith and ancestor worship. Official estimates put the number of Taoists and Buddhists at more than two million, while Protestants and Catholics together account for fewer than half that number.

Yes, religion is part and parcel of politics here, and a religious subsector features prominently in the Election Committee that will pick our next leader. But religion, especially one that does not represent the bulk of the population, should not play a part in governance – particularly when we’re looking for a leader to heal deep social and political divisions.

We’ve had a devout Catholic in the hot seat before. Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was a regular churchgoer and took pride in his faith, but I don’t recall him openly flaunting it.

To be fair to Lam, she’s not alone in hearing voices from above. Former finance chief Antony Leung Kam-chung, when asked whether he intended to join the race, replied: “I still haven’t heard the call from God to run, so I have no plans.” He wasn’t joking.

Lam’s faith is her personal choice, the word “personal” being key here. If there’s any confusion about separating church from secular government and society, the Bible itself offers a handy solution. When Jesus’ enemies try to trap him into making a stand on paying taxes to the Jews’ Roman rulers, he replies: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” There you go.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post


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Hong Hong needs to join the world of the truly modern entrepreneur – and the government isn’t helping

South China Morning Post

Unless they make a serious commitment that represents broad industrial policy, government will be limited to staging conventions that sound like tourism promotions

This is a time of great change, upheaval of norms and establishment status quo dissolution.

But there’s one steadfast member of the elite that the world can rely on to never change, no matter how the facts around it change: and that’s the Hong Kong government.

One of the nightmares of being an entrepreneur here is that you are always haunted by the idea that you’re wasting your life away.

And so the StartmeupHK Festival 2017, which ends Friday, has been a valiant attempt to move Hong Kong off its traditional and long-worn economic moorings.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of all the panellists, speakers and organisers – but as many of the enthusiastic networking policymakers said, we need to contemplate if they can make a serious commitment that represents broad industrial policy, otherwise, government will be limited to staging conventions that sound like tourism promotions.

It will join the ephemeral wake comprising the wine, Chinese medicine and tech “hubs” that the government has conjured up to show the world how trendy Hong Kong can be.

Some naïve misconceptions held by budding local entrepreneurs need to be cleared up.

No, start-up and angel funding isn’t supposed to pay for a comfortable market level salary and cover your rent. You can ask your VCs for salaries after you achieve key milestones, such as completing and shipping product or even better, generating revenues.

Learn how to write a realistic business and go-to-market plan. Yes, you are supposed to suffer for your art.

Asking people for money is the hardest thing to do. But, it is the essence of business.

Too many young people think raising money is like pushing buttons on an ATM. The most frustrating part of advising young entrepreneurs is that they don’t listen to advice. They waste far too much time engrossed by what they think is something special and shiny. Instead, they realise that ideas aren’t special. Being able to execute ideas in a business plan is far more important.

Beyond the policy recommendations I have made in previous columns, and assuming this city’s government actually wants to move its economy beyond property speculation, it needs to forcefully create an industrial policy that encompasses a broad range of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Livana Young Yuen-yi attends media pitching day for the ‘Mother Entrepreneurs’ event held last year in Kwun Tong. Peter Guy insists a lot more should be done to encourage the city to reinvent itself as a modern entrepreneurial hub. Photo: Edward WongThis requires an understanding of innovation as a process that can be replicated consistently by both institutions and groups – that’s a lot more than the randomness of betting on start-ups.

Being an entrepreneur can be a cruel, frightening and painful experience. You have to believe in yourself in a way that is almost alien to people who decide to be mere employees. Not all business owners are entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneur requires special characteristics. They care about something different above owning their own business. They seek to change or transmute value not seen by others.

Hong Kong’s enduring myth is that its economy is built by entrepreneurs. But, the reality is they are independent businesses. An independent business person is not the same as an entrepreneur. Starting McDonald’s in 1955 and inventing process repetition, control and efficiency into fast food that changed the entire restaurant industry, was an innovation vastly different than opening a won ton noodle cafe.

While one brought radical change to a traditional industry, the others regurgitate the kind of derivative repetition of ideas that Hong Kong cannot seem to escape.

It explains why it is easier to raise millions to open a restaurant than a tech startup in this city despite being overcrowded with copycat restaurant groups who are unwitting serfs to greedy landlords.

Hong Kong must overcome the dilemma posed by China. Despite protectionist, restrictive laws and aggressive censorship, China has evolved into a globally attractive and significant technology market. It may also be viewed as a marginally more attractive place to live than China, but for innovation and entrepreneurship you have to be located in China to understand and penetrate the market.

China has demonstrated that unrestricted individual freedom of thought (as defined in the west) is not an absolute necessity for innovation.

While pure, subversive and radical innovation is not possible, China has shown that commercialisation of western technology for domestic consumption can spawn massive enterprises that serve huge market segments.

By posing and truncating itself as a technology “gateway” or “superconnector”, Hong Kong actually surrenders and trades away much of the recurring benefits of its vast industrial development.

The source of value and power in technology comes from owning intellectual property, not acting as a facilitator of coffee club gatherings.

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Should Hong Kong ban spanking of children at home as well as in school?

CommentInsight & Opinion
Yonden Lhatoo looks at how France has made corporal punishment of children illegal and compares it with Hong Kong, which is unlikely to make such a move

Buried under the daily barrage of bad news, there was a recent report that did not resonate much in this part of the world but I found it quite intriguing, nonetheless: you’re officially no longer allowed  to spank your children in France.

The fine print took some of the gee whiz out of the news, as it turns out that France is only the 52nd country in the world to take such a step. Sweden is quantum leaps ahead of everyone, having started in 1979.

Also, bear in mind that the new law in France is more symbolic than draconian, as offenders will not face criminal punishment. That’s in a country where 85 per cent of parents smack their children and are likely to carry on doing it, although a tad more discreetly from now on, perhaps.

What about Hong Kong? Just the other day, I watched another exemplar of the eternal conflict between misbehaving child and frustrated parent play out in a shopping mall. “Just wait until we get home,” the mother warned as her little princeling shook the rafters with a thunderous tantrum over some abruptly cancelled visit to Toys ‘R’ Us.

It reminded me of “somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad”, the trademark quote that Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters attributes to his father in his classic stand-up routine on parenting.

Peters jokingly recalls his father’s response when threatened with a phone call to Children’s Aid for beating his kid: “I might get into a little bit of trouble, but I know that it’s going to take them 23 minutes to get here. In that time, somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad!”

Not many children are getting “a-hurt real bad” by their parents in Hong Kong, where the English common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” applies, and corporal punishment at home is allowed. But a 2015 survey found that about half of the city’s children, aged six to 13, were physically disciplined by their parents, who used bare hands as well as handy implements like clothes hangers and rulers to inflict punitive pain.

Our city has banned corporal punishment in schools since 1991, but resisted calls by concern groups to extend the ban to homes. That’s unlikely to change, as Hong Kong is a traditional society on the whole and the conservative mindset prevails in such matters.

I tend to agree with the school ban. With all due respect to decent teachers, it’s totally understandable that most parents don’t and won’t trust strangers, qualified or not, to lay hands on their children.

Most of the teachers during my own schooldays were decent educators, but I haven’t forgotten a few who went beyond the usual ruler rap on the knuckles to what would only be described as criminal assault these days. They would be behind bars if they did that now, for sure. The philosophy of “spare the rod and save the child” does not entail crippling the child with said rod.

A study last year by the American Journal of Family Psychology analysed five decades of research involving more than 160,000 children to conclude that the more we spank our kids, the more likely they are to defy us. They’re also more prone to antisocial behaviour, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, apparently.

Like many of my friends and contemporaries, I wasn’t spared the rod myself growing up, both at home and school, but we like to look back and think it made us a little broader-shouldered and thicker-skinned than Generation Snowflake these days.

After all, as Immanuel Kant once said, “Man must be disciplined, for he is by nature raw and wild.”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post

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What will China give up in 2017 for the stability it seeks?

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Cary Huang says its leadership reshuffle will add more uncertainty to an economy already buffeted by strong headwinds, and some trade-offs – between maintaining economic health and political objectives – cannot be avoided

China faces a potentially more volatile 2017, as the impact of a series of developments in the past year gradually begin to show.

The country’s outlook is subject to a host of uncertain factors. Internally, nothing could play a bigger role than politics, thanks to a crucial five-yearly party enclave. Externally, a new US administration with an isolationist and protectionist agenda will soon take office, and the Brexit process will formally start.

The 19th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party this autumn will see a major reshuffle of party leadership, followed by a five-yearly government overhaul in early 2018. Unwritten rules require that five of the seven Politburo Standing Committee members – barring President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) and Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) – step down, since they will have reached the unofficial retirement age of 68. Another six members of the 25-man Politburo are also expected to leave office. But there is greater uncertainty this year as there is speculation that Xi will break some party rules to try to consolidate power.

Economically, the nation faces a hard choice. It can push ahead with market reform to try to regain its long-term growth momentum, thereby risking instability. Or, it can choose to shore up short-term stability, in which case it faces a slow descent into economic stagnation and the middle-income trap.

If the party wishes to maintain its monopoly on power, some trade-offs are needed between achieving economic health and political objectives.

At this politically sensitive time, it seems likely the leadership will choose stability over reform. At the recent annual Central Economic Work Conference, stability emerged as a top priority.

Diplomatically, Beijing also has a challenge on its hands: it must learn to effectively deal with a potentially combative US administration led by Donald Trump, who has threatened to declare China a “currency manipulator” and levy a 45 per cent import tariff on Chinese goods.

The economy will also begin to feel the negative effects of Brexit, which will grow more apparent in the months ahead. Elections in Germany, France and other European countries, and the political change that may come as a result, will also be a challenge.

Once a key driver of the world economy, China’s economic expansion has slowed significantly from the double-digit GDP growth of years past to around 6.7 per cent this year, the weakest in a quarter of a century.

Leaders have set a target growth rate of 6.5 per cent for 2017, a figure that must be met if the country is to realise its goal of doubling its 2010 GDP and per capita income by 2020.

Yet, setting a higher growth rate is not feasible. China is beset with problems, including industrial overcapacity and high debt levels (at 260 per cent of its annual GDP). If it sets a growth rate that is too high, it would undermine the country’s financial stability and weaken its fiscal sustainability,

Policymakers must also decide if it will allow the renminbi’s value to continue falling, at the cost of the government’s credibility, or to prop it up at great expense to the country’s reserves, while tightening capital control amid massive capital outflows.

The biggest challenge is that the measures policymakers have long employed to stabilise the situation have only made it more difficult to control the situation now. Macro management has become more complicated amid rising internal and external tensions.

So, if the buzzword for 2017 isn’t “risk”, it will be“uncertainty” or “unpredictability”.

Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post