Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why all the losers in Hong Kong’s chief executive race deserve our vote … of thanks

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-27
Alice Wu says the losing candidates showed the way for the incoming chief executive, from raising critical questions on ‘one country, two systems’ to highlighting the importance of heeding public sentiment

For all who stepped up to the plate to contend for the office of Hong Kong chief executive: thank you for making it a contested, though pre-determined, race.

Not only did some of them brush aside the great disincentive of being made predestined losers, they stuck to it to the end.

Whatever our politics, they are to be commended for putting themselves on the line, and for the personal sacrifices they made to get, or at least try to get, their names on the ballot.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the only aspiring contender out of the lot to have gone through democratic elections, has done this twice. True to her “comeback girl” persona, twice she put herself out there and twice she was squeezed out, forced to drop out of the race because she was not “able” to get the 150 nominations needed. She was not “able” to, mind, not because she should never have tried, or because there weren’t enough nominations to go around. She was made unable to.

She was not the odd woman out, especially since this time it was basically a contest of ex-civil servants. The shameful way the powers that be treated her, twice over now, are the darkest moments of this city’s chief executive race.

Beijing may see bullying Ip out of the race as serving a greater purpose, but it has made Ip the reluctant poster girl for its enemies, opposed to the idea of a Beijing-controlled nomination committee in any talks about political reform.

Kudos to Woo Kwok-hing for getting the ball rolling for this election by being the first to officially throw his hat into the ring – a breath of fresh air as we suffocated under the “wait and see” political atmosphere. He was the first to raise the obvious question to other rumoured contenders: “What are you waiting for?” As someone who was never considered a serious contender, the retired judge surely posed the most serious question of this race and perhaps the city’s ultimate political question. The city was waiting for Beijing to make up its mind about who to back. Other contenders were playing green light/red light with Beijing as the clock ticked. As an “outsider”, Woo certainly shook things up and pushed everyone’s buttons, but he went one better.

His question points to the source of this city’s political angst and frustrations. It explains why political helplessness floods Hong Kong’s political consciousness.

Watching those wishing to run for the city’s most powerful post wait for Beijing’s explicit blessings, or at least non-objection, made the promise of a “high degree of autonomy” a farcical delusion.

Political powerlessness permeates our air. Woo worked hard to secure nominations and, while this system means he never stood a chance of winning, he has possibly proposed the way out of political fatalism. And it would be wise for the newly elected chief executive to take heed.

Unless Hong Kong passes a law that criminalises the very thing – interference by mainland authorities – that Article 22 of our Basic Law prohibits, then all talk of upholding and protecting the “one country, two systems” principle is truly just that, empty talk.

As the race entered its final weeks, disturbing and ridiculous rumours, such as cast ballots would undergo fingerprint analysis, made their rounds in political circles. One could speculate about the source of these rumours, but all that would yield are just more conspiracy theories. The fact that these rumours needed refuting speaks of how “believable” they are. These rumours would not have survived if not for the avalanche of reports of the blatant and excessive lobbying for one candidate by those north of the Shenzhen River.

They were an affront to “one country, two systems” – and there will be repercussions that will challenge the very person those concerted efforts were supposed to benefit. The challenges of governance will be ever more pronounced. These politically stifling efforts will only exacerbate feelings of political powerlessness and feed the “political oppression” narrative the localists swear by.

Hats off to John Tsang Chun-wah for being a good sport, playing the role of a good sparring partner for a former colleague. The most appealing candidate for the public ran a campaign with the greatest popular appeal. Marked out as the populist candidate, Tsang proved his critics wrong. His cardinal sin wasn’t his supposed “populism”. It was getting the support of pan-democrats. But to mend the social and political rifts, as all candidates pledged to do, crossing the political aisle is a necessity. Tsang put restarting the political reform process front and centre of his platform not because he is a dangerous populist, but because he is a realist. The crises of legitimacy that administrations past have had to struggle with will only grow more disabling, and the political environment more volatile, if politics is swept under the rug. And without political legitimacy, the mission of improving livelihoods and developing the economy will continue to face political headwinds.

The most valuable outcome of a democratic contested race is that it gives the winner the chance to pay more attention to what the voters are thinking and really want.

John Tsang with a young supporter during his election campaign on March 16. Photo: AP

While what we had was a far cry from a democratic or truly contested race, Tsang perhaps offered the winning candidate a way into the hearts and minds of the public. Under the current system and political environment, Tsang’s tactic would never have won him the seat. But his tactic is exactly what the chief executive-elect would need when in office, in the conduct of which public sentiment plays a crucial role.

And finally, congratulations to the newly elected chief executive of Hong Kong. You have a very tall order to fill. Mao Zedong (毛澤東) may have considered you to be among those who “hold up half the sky,” but Li Ka-shing expects you to be nothing short of a Chinese mythical goddess tasked with the job to “mend the heavens”.

It is my sincere wish that you remain tough in the face of future storms, as you have demonstrated to have been more than capable of doing in the past.

Surely there will be plenty of opportunities to prove your critics wrong, but the work to mend the divided community – as you have pledged – begins right now.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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Hong Kong’s ailing film industry can play a leading role in a hi-tech economy

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Albert Cheng says the next chief executive should focus on transforming the city into a world leader in virtual reality and a post-production hub, to boost the economy

After three weeks of electioneering to be Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has a comfortable lead ahead of her two opponents in terms of support from the small circle of 1,194 electors – despite being unpopular among ordinary Hongkongers. There is little doubt the former chief secretary will emerge as the winner on Sunday.

However, it would be difficult for her to lead a government when her credibility is low. She can secure enough votes to win, but not the hearts and minds of the people.

If elected, the first thing Lam must do is restore people’s trust. For this, she should focus her attention on one vital subject: the Hong Kong economy. I would advise her to steer public attention back to how to keep the city prosperous. How Hong Kong can ride the global wave of innovation and technology should feature prominently in her first 100 days.

When it comes to innovation and technology, people often think of fintech, start-ups, and research and development. They overlook one important opportunity here: the film industry. In her manifesto, Lam states that in the face of competition, the city “should continue to nurture talents in the film industry by providing training to those involved in film production and post-production, and provide assistance in the further development of the industry”.

This is probably one of the very few issues where I agree with her. The government should invest in the future of Hong Kong by transforming this creative and energetic city into a post-production hub and world leader in virtual reality technology.

Hong Kong has nurtured a critical mass of talent in the film industry over the years. It is a matter of how our leader can unleash this vast potential.

The policy so far has been to invest a relatively small amount of taxpayers’ money to help Hong Kong’s technology firms leap forward. Yet, the logic of a matching fund in collaboration with venture capitalists defies common sense. Once they spot a good movie script, opportunistic investors would rather pocket all the profits, rather than sharing it with the government.

Instead of fumbling around trying to pick winners, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung’s might be better to focus on assisting Hong Kong firms that are already on the right track to climb to the next level.

A scene from the 1987 movie An Autumn’s Tale. starring Chow Yun-fat and Cherie Chung. Hong Kong filmmakers used to produce up to 200 movies a year in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industry was hailed as a pillar of the local economy. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong filmmakers used to produce up to 200 movies a year in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industry was hailed as a pillar of the local economy. However, as its counterparts in Taiwan and the mainland continue to mature, Hong Kong’s creative industry has gone downhill. Virtual reality technology could be the key to help the city turn the tide.

Despite the lack of government support, local entrepreneurs have seized some of the opportunities. Actor Nicholas Tse Ting-fung is a shining example. He launched Post Production Office in 2003 to focus on post-production work for commercials and movies. He branched out in Shanghai and Beijing before selling 60 per cent of the firm to a listed company. However, its Hong Kong operations had to fold mainly because of runaway rentals and high labour costs. The is one of the many budding businesses which ended up moving away from Hong Kong.

The company has now been taken over by Digital Domain, which is chaired by Taiwanese businessman Peter Chou. It is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and can be promoted as a success story of our own. Digital Domain is based in the US, with its production studio located in Vancouver. Its special effects expertise is behind many Hollywood blockbusters, including Iron Man 3 and Transformers, to name but two. Many have asked, why Canada? Why not America? Or China? In fact, the answer lies in the local government’s aggressive incentives for investors.

By contrast, the Hong Kong government has been sitting on its hands. The flat, uninspiring ideas in the policy addresses every year are devoid of imagination. The next chief executive must take prompt action. When a good plan is not implemented, it remains at best an idea. Hong Kong can ill afford to let good ideas slip away.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.


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What Hong Kong can learn from Europe’s still-evolving union

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Yan Shaohua says the consensus-building project that is the European Union offers good pointers for our divided city

 

This year is an eventful year for Hong Kong. The city is poised to see the election of a new chief executive on March 26, and 2017 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

On another continent, and just one day before the chief executive election here, the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that laid the foundation of the union.

The EU and Hong Kong may seem very different from one another, but if we look deeper, the two could be familiar strangers. Philosophically, the EU’s concept of “unity without uniformity” resonates perfectly with the spirit of “one country, two systems” here. And, to a large extent, both the EU and Hong Kong are “strange animals” in terms of their unique place in the global system.

There are other similarities. The EU suffers from a perceived “democratic deficit”, Hong Kong is struggling to establish a “true demo­cracy”. The EU faces a backlash against the consolidation of a political union, Hong Kong is stuck in its political reform. The EU frets over the ascent of populism and nationalism, Hong Kong fears the rise of localism. Facing these challenges, both sides are at a crossroads, compelled to review their past and reflect on future paths.

Giving these commonalities, it is surprising that so little attention is paid to the EU in Hong Kong’s discussions on the future of “one country, two systems”. As a researcher in European studies in Hong Kong, I believe that a study of the EU would offer valuable lessons for our problems. These lessons can be summarised in what I call the “3Cs”: constitution, communication and consensus.

Constitution

The first lesson is to come back to the constitution. Despite its inherent flaws and the multiple crises along the way, the EU has evolved from a group of six members into a union of 28 states under a supranational governance structure. This has largely occurred on the basis of what we call the acquis communautaire, which includes the accumulated legislation, legal order and court decisions that constitute the body of European Union laws.

In particular, the Treaty of Rome and its subsequent revisions have served as the constitutional framework to navigate the EU’s evolution. Although the EU’s progression is slow and not without setbacks, there has been a strong sense of working through the constitutional treaties which enables the EU to overcome the seemingly unworkable system.

The EU’s adherence to its constitutional framework and the supremacy it gives to European law should constitute “foreign stones that may serve to polish domestic jade”. Like the EU experience, “one country, two systems” is an evolving formula that calls for continuous improvements in practice. In recent years, the city has seen a strong push for reform, yet many of the discussions undertaken are out of the context and unrealistic.

In fact, a number of the issues raised have already been addressed in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. It is thus imperative that any discussion on the future of “one country, two systems” – which still provides ample room and flexibility to accommodate the pleas of different stakeholders – begins with the Basic Law.

Li Fei, chairman of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, speaks at a luncheon with Hong Kong lawmakers and officials in November 2013. Hong Kong must create effective mechanisms for political communication and consul­tation between the executive and legislative organs, between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps, and between the SAR and Beijing. Photo: Sam Tsang

Communication

The second lesson is to establish effective channels of communication. The EU is a system of multilevel governance that involves multiple actors and multiple methods of decision-making. The functioning of such a complicated system would not have been possible without the various formal and informal mechanisms of communication between EU institutions and member states.

Such open and institutionalised ways of communication are not sufficiently seen within Hong Kong or between Hong Kong and Beijing. Consequently, the city is constantly trapped in confrontations over policies, politics and, particularly, its relations with Beijing.

To avoid unnecessary confrontation and facilitate constructive interactions, a priority for Hong Kong is to create effective mechanisms (formal or informal) for political communication and consul­tation between the executive and legislative organs, between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps, and between the SAR and Beijing. This could be achieved within Hong Kong’s constitutional framework.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers hold up banners while being escorted out after they interrupted the chief executive election forum in Hong Kong last Sunday. With increasing social movements and political demonstrations, the SAR is transforming from an economic city into a political city, where politics and society are highly polarised. Photo: AFP

Consensus

Based on the constitution and through communication, a third lesson for Hong Kong is to rebuild a consensus. The EU is essentially a project of consensus-building, which has in turn contributed to European integration. For decades, the post-war European consensus on achieving peace and prosperity through functional economic integration has been an enabling factor for the EU’s development.

That consensus seems to be losing momentum right now. The hopes are that a new consensus could be built on the occasion of the EU’s 60th anniversary.

Hong Kong is facing a similar dilemma. With increasing social movements and political demonstrations, the SAR is transforming from an economic city into a political city, where politics and society are highly polarised. Gradually, people seem to be getting used to divisions and confrontations, forgetting the wisdom of making compromises and consensus. It is time for Hong Kong to rebuild a much-needed consensus, not only on its internal governance, but also on its role as a go-between for China and the world.

Finally, we should be aware that the EU and Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” are both unprecedented political experiments in supranational and national governance. Despite the challenges and the crises that have emerged, they are still something worth fighting for, because they represent future possibilities, and hope.

Dr Yan Shaohua is an Asia fellow at the EU-Asia Institute, ESSCA School of Management, and a member of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum


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Hong Kong needs a realistic vision in setting its power goals

CommentInsight & Opinion
2016-09-02
John W. M. Cheng says the city must consider not only the lack of suitable land but also energy security, equity and environmental sustainability, as it works towards a low-carbon future

 

Hong Kong has, for decades, been a majestic international city, thriving and shining on the southern tip of China. Its success can be partly attributed to a world-class electricity supply system, one of the most sophisticated and reliable infrastructures in Asia, if not the world.

As global and local communities aspire and work towards a more sustainable and low-carbon future – and with a population of over 7.3 million living within only 1,105 sq km but consuming over 43 terawatt-hours of power in 2015 – what are the realistic options for Hong Kong when we look to 2030 or even 2050? Undoubtedly, our aspirations must be visionary and yet realistic.

Wind and solar technologies have improved significantly in recent years in terms of cost and performance. Solar panels on land and rooftops are surging by the millions globally. Wind turbine technologies for land-based applications have also matured. The key question is, how viable is it to build solar and/or wind facilities in Hong Kong?

Based on wind and solar resources data from US space agency Nasa, and taking into consideration today’s commercially available technologies, the percentage of land area required to displace all local generation in 2015 would be 54 per cent for solar and up to 270 per cent for wind. Alternatively, if 5 per cent of local generation is to be displaced by solar, we will need about 30 sq km (roughly 2.7 per cent of land in Hong Kong or half of Sha Tin District) of unobstructed space.

Land requirement for power generation is measured by the power density, that is, how much power can be produced in a unit area (watts per square metre or W/m2) by a given generation means. Coal-fired power is around 1,400-2,500 W/m2, gas-fired power about 5,900-14,000 W/m2 and nuclear around 1,100-3,700 W/m2. Solar and wind generation are around 4-16 W/m2.

The numbers probably speak for themselves. With such orders of magnitude of difference, if we want local generation while our land areas are scarce, we will have limited choice. This is one reason why gas-fired generation is considered a viable transitional option, as its carbon dioxide emissions are about half those of a similar coal-fired facility and yet it has a power density higher than coal.

Wind and solar generation are inherently uncertain and intermittent. To maintain a continuous and reliable system, we need the grid connection or local energy storage to back up renewable generation.

For grid connection, often taken for granted, we rely on a supply system that must be highly controllable and yet economic to maintain the power balance. Fossil-based generators are by far the most practical and affordable means unless you have many hydro plants like in Norway. Storage by means of pumped-hydro is by far the most popular and practical. However, it requires the coexistence of suitable terrain, abundant energy at times and available water resources (river or sea).

Today, battery technology for bulk storage is still expensive. According to the International Energy Agency, battery investment cost in 2015 was about US$400-US$500 per kilowatt-hour. Even if we go to 2025, the projected cost will be no less than US$200 per kWh. Innovation and major technological breakthroughs must take place to make batteries the holy grail.

But before such breakthroughs do happen, when we think of wind and solar, we must also think of the times without them. How should the backup system work to ensure continuity of service, high reliability and low cost?

Installing distributed and small-scale solar and wind facilities has also received much attention globally. Existing meters, at least in most residential units, are traditional electromechanical devices with simple capabilities. If widespread installation of solar (or wind) facilities takes place, smart meters with the necessary intelligence would be needed to accommodate the feed-in tariff, which will pay for renewable energy at a higher price.

Some may argue that financial support for feed-in tariffs can come from existing “energy subsidies”. While the energy sector in Hong Kong in general does not receive direct financial transfers or preferential tax treatment, we have yet to understand whether such subsidies really exist in Hong Kong or are calculated fairly. More importantly, we must carefully study what should be a fair feed-in tariff and how often we should revise it; what should be a fair rate of grid connection; and, how building codes should be amended to incorporate more solar rooftops.

The UN-accredited World Energy Council defines a sustainable energy system as one that considers three core dimensions simultaneously: energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. These goals constitute a “trilemma” and one must strike a balance among these three goals to ensure a sustainable energy future.

Each year, the council publishes an Energy Trilemma Index report and Hong Kong has always ranked quite high – it was in the top 30 among 130 jurisdictions rated in 2015. We are also within the top five in the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, Hong Kong was ranked eighth globally in terms of energy equity, meaning that we are not only maintaining a good balance in the overall trilemma assessment, but we also excel in making energy affordable and accessible to our citizens.

A wind farm alongside a highway in Turpan, in the Xinjiang region. In drawing up its energy road map, Hong Kong needs to take into account the future direction of the mainland. Photo: AFP

Energy is a unique industry and is fundamental to the very fabric of society. Our history, culture, available resources, economic strength, technological know-how and social needs are also unique in Hong Kong. We must ensure all stakeholders are reasonably aware of the impact and implications of any policy changes and subsequent developments.

Therefore, our energy vision, road map and targets should also be designed and implemented to strike a balance among the trilemma, considering past global experiences and the future direction of the Chinese mainland.

Dr John W. M. Cheng is general secretary of the World Energy Council – Hong Kong, China, and CLP Research Institute’s senior manager


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Six ways a coalition would be a winning combination for Hong Kong

CommentInsight & Opinion
2016-12-05
Keith Hui explains how an inclusive administration would give both opposition parties and voters a real voice and stake in making the government work

 

A coalition government would increase the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policymaking for long-term stability and prosperity. Illustration: Craig StephensHong Kong’s chief executive should consider upgrading the “principal officials accountability system” – introduced by Tung Chee-hwa in 2002 to appoint illustrious worthies alongside administrative officers to take up policy secretary posts – to an inclusive “coalition government”.

Recruiting more lawmakers ­affiliated with the major political parties, including the Democratic Party, to join such a coalition cabinet would offer a chance to solve the present political conundrum.

Coalition governments are common in Europe; many countries there have had a proportional representation mechanism for decades. For example, the current German government, named as the third “grand coalition” since the second world war, is composed of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Social Democrat SPD, thus securing a dominating majority (504 of 598 seats) in the 18th Bundestag.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a regional conference of her Christian Democratic Union party in Heidelberg on November 28. She leads the third “grand coalition” government in Germany since the second world war. Photo: EPA

There would be at least six advantages from having Hong Kong lawmakers, from both functional and geographical constituencies, and district councillors appointed to the position of chief secretary and more than half the ministerial posts (including deputy and assistant ranks) inside the 13 policy bureaus.

It would mean more politicians like Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai, Transport and Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung; and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Undersecretary Ronald Chan Ngok-pang inside the government.

The first advantage is that the chief executive would have more flexibility to negotiate with all those who faithfully support the “one country two systems” principle and recognise China’s unquestionable sovereignty over Hong Kong, so as to command a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council.

The recent oath-taking saga has revealed the Democratic Party’s consistent position in staying firmly away from the independence movement advocated by localists. The Democrats, in fact, had an excellent track record under the leadership of the late Szeto Wah for their patriotism as well as willingness to compromise with the government on many fronts. Moderates such as Fred Li Wah-ming and Sin Chung-kai would be ideal candidates to join a coalition government (after nominally resigning from the party) to represent the Democrats.

Fred Li would be ideal for a coalition government. Photo: Edmund SoThe more radical section of the party may disagree with such a move. However, unless they want to remain an opposition party forever, being assimilated into the coalition government is the only way to realise their goals regarding, say, social welfare and labour protection. In other words, only if the Democratic Party is willing to join a coalition government can it turn itself into a genuine political party.

This also applies to parties such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee’s New People’s Party, the Liberal Party and the various groups within the functional constituencies. This is actually the second advantage of a coalition government, in that it provides a formal channel for parties to attain governing power under certain conditions, thus fulfilling their ambition to become policymakers.

Also, as these politicians have the chance to analyse issues from both sides, they would tend to be practical rather than radical, realistic rather than idealistic and pragmatic rather than hypocritical.

The third advantage would be evoking the general public’s sense of belonging, security, achievement and closeness to the government, given that a certain number of politicians elected by the public would now be working as policymakers to initiate concrete action to improve their livelihoods.

Furthermore, if this happened generation after generation, voters would tend to distance themselves from radicals who could paralyse the legislature. Any sensible voter would always prefer those who can actually take care of their interests over those who merely provide lip service.

The fourth merit is that there would be no need to amend the Basic Law. The chief executive would continue to have all the necessary discretion, subject to Beijing’s approval, to appoint people to fill various posts, at certain ranks, while deciding how long they should serve. Professionals and civil servants could still be appointed to take up posts as, say, secretary for justice, security, financial services and the civil service. These non-politicians would counterbalance the influence of their political peers, when necessary, through budgeting or voicing realistic concerns.

Moreover, in a case where a secretary committed a serious mistake, immediate resignation would still be an option to help relieve pressure on the government.

The fifth advantage, and the most important one, will be increasing the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policy implementation for long-term stability and prosperity. This could alleviate confrontations between the establishment and opposition parties. This is also how coalition governments work in many countries.

In the wake of the independence movement, the chief executive needs to spend more time improving mainland-Hong Kong relations. The chief secretary should therefore shoulder more responsibility to oversee internal affairs, from housing policy to legislation on Article 23. Appointing a popularly elected person to take up this position and lead the coalition government could open more gateways for cooperation among reasonable political groups for a consensus. This is the sixth advantage, so that political pressure is not overly concentrated on the chief executive.

Without a breakthrough, Hong Kong might have to rely on selling souvenirs to make a living soon.

Keith K C Hui is a Hong Kong-based commentator