Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong as a shoppers’ paradise is so far behind the times

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Peter Kammerer
Peter Kammerer says the city’s laggard mentality in pushing for a hi-tech future will take its toll in many ways, including when the global trend in online shopping hits the local sector in earnest

Hong Kong generally lags behind in global trends. Economically, socially and legally, we’re living in the past. By how much is difficult to gauge, but, by some measures, it could be as much as a decade. If we don’t start catching up, we’re going to suffer big time.

The loss of the US$25 billion Alibaba stock listing to New York was a prime and costly example of how stuck in our ways we can be. Almost three years later, the strictly enforced “one share, one vote” rule that blocked the bid remains in place, even though exchanges elsewhere have realised the importance of the dual-class share structure to ensuring the growth of firms, particularly those in the tech sector. Beyond big business, consider how the refusal to adopt European standards on air quality is affecting health and reputation, how the well-being of workers and their families is undermined by a lack of standard working hours and what a substandard pension scheme means for livelihoods. And we’re not even talking about issues like gay marriage and marijuana that are being legalised elsewhere.

But let’s move onto online shopping, an area that smartphone-loving Hongkongers should have embraced. Getting up-to-date statistics is difficult, but a Consumer Council study from last year comparing figures for 2014 gives a good perspective. That year, 23 per cent of internet-using Hongkongers had shopped online in the previous 12 months, compared to 67 per cent of mainland Chinese, 69 per cent of Japanese, 73 per cent of Germans, 78 per cent of Americans and 81 per cent of Britons.

Hong Kong’s compact size and shop-packed streets may be behind the low take-up. But I’ve a feeling much of it is to do with not trusting online sellers. Hong Kong people love to window shop and see what they’re buying before they purchase. But that gets in the way of the experience that online provides of trying new products from the wider range available, often at a lower price.

My sons long ago realised that, feeding their gym-rat lifestyles with supplements, equipment and clothing. So, too, have consumers elsewhere in the world, with increasingly dramatic effect on cityscapes. Online trade has become so engrained that shops are closing. The trend is especially noticeable in the US, where thousands of retail stores operated by big-name brands like Macy’s, Sears and Kmart, to name but a few, have already closed this year.

The same is happening in Europe, Canada and Australia; it’s inevitable when stores don’t respond quickly enough to customer demands on price, selection and fashion. And if the experience of my sons and their 20- and 30-something friends is any guide, it’s going to hit Hong Kong sooner rather than later. The impact to our economy won’t be huge as, by various estimates, the retail sector accounts for only between 1.3 and 3.9 per cent of gross domestic product. But with the Hong Kong Retail Management Association claiming that about 10 per cent of our city’s workers, or 260,000 people, are employed in the sector, there could be a huge impact on the labour force.

Authorities seem oblivious; they’re still pushing Hong Kong as a shoppers’ paradise. The latest retail sales figures for March showing a 3.1 per cent rise on the same period last year, reversing a months-long drift, gives a false sense of security. But, like it or not, trends elsewhere eventually catch fire in our city and with an explosion of online shopping will come job losses for tens of thousands of people. The half-hearted effort to push new industries has to be replaced by a mindset to fully embrace the hi-tech present and future.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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How China’s belt and road can pave the way to global sustainability

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Yixiu Wu says Beijing should ensure its belt and road projects address environmental concerns, so as to shape development across three continents and leave behind a green legacy

On May 14 and 15, 28 heads of state and government leaders will convene in Beijing for the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. At a time when much of the world is recoiling into protectionism, the Belt and Road Initiative represents China’s unprecedented entry onto the global stage. A new chapter of the China story is unfolding.

The success of the initiative, which spans 65 countries, will depend on whether long-term concerns are prioritised. In the face of climate change, a transition away from fossil fuel consumption and towards environmental sustainability is imperative.

The launch of the belt and road follows three decades of rapid economic growth in China, which has been fuelled by infrastructure development and intensive energy consumption. As a result of this legacy, China’s investments in the initiative have attracted scepticism. Observers questioned whether the belt and road is merely a vessel for China to reproduce its old development model, which, despite ushering in unprecedented growth, has led to widespread environmental degradation. Such questions are valid, considering that, between 2005 and 2016, 40 per cent of China’s outbound investment was directed towards energy projects and 18 per cent to infrastructure. Moreover, environmental negligence is one of the most frequently cited complaints about Chinese companies overseas.

The Earth has reached a crisis point. Extreme weather patterns are becoming the norm, forests are shrinking, and water supplies are running dry. There is no room any more for a development model that promotes growth at the expense of the environment.

Moreover, the belt and road countries are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems and most precious carbon sink. They also use much of the world’s resources: a study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that 38 key belt and road nations emit more than 55 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases and consume 66 per cent of global water resources.

The good news is that, within and outside China, models of sustainable development appear promising. Domestically, China has begun to decouple its economic progress from fossil fuel consumption and is now home to the world’s fastest-growing renewable energy industry. China’s coal consumption has fallen for three years running, a key factor in the flattening of global greenhouse gas emissions. Internationally, the imperative for multilateral sustainability initiatives is indisputable, as exemplified by the Paris agreement on climate change.

Shaping belt and road projects with the environment in mind makes economic sense. A focus on sustainable development will help achieve economic and political stability for China and its belt and road partners. It will improve energy efficiency and limit regional conflicts over natural resources.

The question now is how to ensure that long-term imperatives are not overlooked in favour of short-term profit. Doing so requires rules and processes, backed by high-level political resolve. It also depends on the inclusion of diverse stakeholders to assess the environmental implications of belt and road initiatives. It is crucial that China make publicly available information about the overseas belt and road projects, subjecting them to scrutiny from local and international communities.

The belt and road has the potential to shape sustainable development across three continents. The initiative is ambitious and complex. It calls for collaboration from key international actors, such as the UN, the EU and the multilateral development banks.

If wisdom and resolve prevail, three decades from now, the Belt and Road Initiative will exemplify the benefits that a rising China can bring to the world. It is now more important than ever that the next chapter of the China story be centred on a commitment to sustainable development. This emphasis is key not only to preserving China’s legacy, but also to ensuring global prosperity for decades to come.

Yixiu Wu is a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. Her work focuses on China’s global environmental footprint and One Belt, One Road polices

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Revoke Hong Kong’s rural housing privileges so everyone can have a decent home

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Mike Rowse says the favouritism shown to Hong Kong’s rural villages in terms of land allocation comes at the expense of the urban majority, and this unequal and politically unacceptable policy must change
A remark by a guest on a TV talk show has enabled me to better understand one of Hong Kong’s great mysteries: why it is so difficult to make more land available for housing. At first I thought I had misheard, or misunderstood, or he had misspoken. But confirmation came just a few days later in a different forum from an impeccable source.

The guest on Michael Chugani’s talk show was Shih Wing-ching, chairman of a free Chinese-language newspaper, but better known as the founder of one of our top property agencies. Shih said Hong Kong only set aside 7 per cent of land for residential use, of which 4 per cent was for urban housing, and 3 per cent for rural settlement. If just two of those three percentage points were switched to urban housing, which is by nature more intensive, we would have more than enough land to meet all our requirements.

“Surely that cannot be correct” would be a common first reaction. But by chance, a few days later, confirmation came at a forum on development in the New Territories, for which the Planning Department shared statistics on land utilisation in the SAR: private residential – 2.3 per cent; public residential – 1.4 per cent; rural settlement – 3.2 per cent. So Shih actually slightly understated the discrepancy.

Of course, not all that 3.2 per cent is suitable for conversion to intensive housing development; there will be small pockets in remote locations that should be ignored on practical grounds. But there is surely scope for a considerable amount to be reclassified.

A village in Sai Kung. Hong Kong has no fewer than 642 recognised villages, and 4,500 hectares of farmland, of which only around 700 hectares are actively farmed. The small-house policy is politically unsustainable. Photo: Dickson Lee

Two other extraordinary figures were shared: Hong Kong has no fewer than 642 recognised villages, and 4,500 hectares of farmland, of which only around 700 hectares are actively farmed.

The fact is Hong Kong is essentially a city. The experience of every other major city in the world – London, Paris, Tokyo, New York – shows that as they grow, they absorb the villages surrounding them. Indeed, we don’t need international comparators, as elsewhere in China we have seen the same process in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing ( 重慶 ) and other large conurbations. Farming also gets squeezed out to the periphery as urbanisation takes hold. Only in Hong Kong, apparently, do we have to pretend the situation prevailing in 1898 is to be preserved for all time.

By now the elephant in the room of our housing situation should be apparent for all to see. It is the small-house policy, and the fabled “rights” of our indigenous villagers. A typical small house is three storeys on 700 sq ft, or 2,100 sq ft in total. At a time when an apartment of a quarter that size in the urban area rates as a good home for a family of four, at a time when our developers are selling flats as small as 150 sq ft to give prospective buyers a first rung on the ownership ladder, this discrepancy is socially and politically unacceptable and unsustainable.

How can we stop the small-house juggernaut? The good news is that, contrary to common assertion, the Basic Law does not protect the small-house policy, and indeed those two words do not appear in it. Article 40 says, “The lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the ‘New Territories’ shall be protected by the Hong Kong special administrative region”. This article is subject to challenge because of the different treatment meted out to men and women, which is contrary to other legislation in Hong Kong. It also runs foul of Article 25, which states, “All Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law”.

How can it be legitimate for one group to obtain, at very low cost, a large residence whereas another similar group is expected to pay a king’s ransom for one a quarter of the size? How can it be right that one group, merely through birth, gets the equivalent of a Mark Six win, while many of our best professionals will only secure a decent property through inheritance?

We see before us a controversial effort by the government to extinguish a small group of villages occupied by non-indigenous residents at Wang Chau. What we need is a comprehensive policy to provide for the gradual extinguishment of all villages in the New Territories when the land they occupy is needed to provide decent housing for all in Hong Kong. It’s either that or reclaim our way south to the Philippines.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises.

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Hong Kong’s teachers can help change mindsets on science and maths degrees

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

William Pang is alarmed at students’ growing aversion to science and maths fields and says the crux of the problem seems to be that educators are failing to convince them about the diverse doors STEM degrees can open

Friends and teachers from my days at Diocesan Boys’ School would never have pinned me as an engineering major. I was mediocre at best in maths.

Which is why I was surprised to hear that many of my maths-whiz friends ended up pursuing majors in the humanities, law or medicine, rather than engineering, maths or the physical sciences.

A recent study spearheaded by Professor Tsui Lap-chee, former president of the University of Hong Kong, raised further alarm: the percentage of students taking advanced maths dropped from 23 per cent in 2012 to 14 per cent last year. But admission data shows that entry into engineering and science programmes is less competitive than for the humanities. So why are students increasingly uninterested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields?

The crux of the problem seems to be the poor job that educators are doing in promoting and convincing students to pursue STEM degrees. A science degree does not mean ending up in a government or teaching job. Most engineering degree holders don’t become engineers, but go on to pursue diverse careers, including in law or business. Amazon head Jeff Bezos and US Secretary of State (and former ExxonMobil CEO) Rex Tillerson have engineering degrees, as do 33 per cent of CEOs.

An essential point that has been underemphasised in the STEM discourse is that an education in STEM fields can open many doors. Engineering students don’t just learn about the nuances of thermodynamic cycles, they must learn to work as a team and solve real-life problems. Science and maths students are trained to think critically, question assumptions and form hypotheses – skills that are of incredible value.

Hong Kong’s education system places too much emphasis on the idea that there is a “model answer” for every problem: which is often not the case in science and certainly not true in real life.

Educators could turn to computer programming to kindle young people’s passion for science. The beauty of programming is that there are many approaches to tackle a single problem, which requires students to think laterally and devise creative solutions.

Educators across all levels of schooling play a role in shaping the perception of STEM fields – whether it is the primary school teacher who sparks a student’s sense of curiosity, the middle school teacher who instils a love for science, or the college professor who convinces an undergraduate student to take part in research.

Unless there’s a cultural shift in the way we approach science education, Hong Kong students will soon find themselves trailing behind the international competition.

William Pang is an engineering student at McGill University

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<u>愈年輕愈投票泛民 愈年長愈投票建制</u>

















(本文部分數據由港大民意研究計劃提供,特此鳴謝港大民研計劃以及鍾庭耀和Edward Tai)

(傘運前後年輕人的投票模式剖析 三之二)