Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong’s silent majority must make their voices heard, and their by-election votes count

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-02-08

Michael Chugani says the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections are a contest over who lays claim to the voice of Hong Kong. It’s time for the ‘silent majority’ to make itself heard through its votes

Are you out there, silent majority? If yes, why so silent? Maybe you’re just a myth. If not, then speak up or we’ll have to accept that the loud and angry voices of protests which bombard us daily represent the vocal majority.

These voices say the government connived with Beijing to disqualify Agnes Chow Ting as a Legislative Council election candidate. They say putting parts of the express rail terminus under mainland control exposes locals to China’s authoritarian laws while still on Hong Kong soil. They say the government persecuted three young activists by seeking jail terms for their storming of government headquarters, which triggered the Occupy protest. And they applaud American congressmen who nominated the trio for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Are they the true voice of Hong Kong? Or is Hong Kong’s true voice that of those who say Chow deserves to be disqualified, Hongkongers have nothing to fear from joint immigration at West Kowloon, the trio who stormed government headquarters should have been jailed and US politicians should have waited until April Fools’ Day to nominate them for a Peace Prize?

I must say I chuckled at the outrage over Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s just political theatre by US lawmakers, for goodness sake. I know because I have covered Washington DC for years. The trio have as much chance of winning as I have of becoming Hong Kong’s next chief executive. But the eruption of anger, including from Beijing, has eaten right into the hands of the China-bashing lawmakers who are just loving it.

Protesters attend a rally in August 2017 after a court ordered Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow to be sent to jail for their role in the Occupy protests in 2014. Photo: APIf US lawmakers can nominate, what’s to stop China’s lawmakers from doing the same? They have every right to, since members of national assemblies are among the eight categories of people eligible to nominate. Those who are seeing red over the trio’s nomination can ask Hong Kong members of China’s National People’s Congress to make their own nomination. I suggest Robert Chow Yung, co-founder of the Silent Majority for Hong Kong, which was set up to counter the Occupy movement. The trouble is that, while the Occupy uprising is still romanticised by many locally and globally, Chow’s Silent Majority has long slipped into silence and therefore from the minds of most. And while some here and in the West have bestowed the heroic status of political prisoners on the Occupy trio for having served a few weeks behind bars before winning their final appeal against jail terms on Tuesday, those who opposed Occupy have not proclaimed a hero among them.

Do Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and Agnes Chow speak for the majority of Hongkongers? Or is the true voice of Hong Kong lurking out there, waiting for the right moment to make itself heard?

If the silent majority as defined by Robert Chow really does exist, there is no better moment than March 11 for it to be seen and heard. That’s when Hongkongers will vote in by-elections to fill four of the six seats left vacant by disqualified opposition legislators for improper oath-taking.

I can’t understand why there is never any real mud-slinging by Legislative Council election candidates. Why aren’t elections fought over who supported and opposed the Occupy uprising, the Mong Kok riots, the foul-mouthed oath-taking by some, and who is to blame for Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong? If candidates fight dirty over these issues, the winners and losers will clearly show which side represents the true voice of Hong Kong.

It’s the final call for the silent majority. Show yourself on March 11 if you exist or forever keep silent. If the opposition handsomely wins back the four seats, then the true voice of Hong Kong belongs to those who storm government buildings, advocate self-determination and lace oath-taking with expletives.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

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In Hong Kong, animosity towards mainland Chinese can’t be overcome without an open mind

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-30
Peter Kammerer says the fear of mainlandisation, though understandable, unfortunately stops Hongkongers from getting to better understand the mainland Chinese who come for work or a holiday. The continuing spats show not enough Hongkongers are making the effort

How many more times are we going to be pummelled by yet another sorry tale of Hongkongers and mainlanders sniping at one another? To add to the long and sorry list of recent years, in the past week, we’ve had a row over Mandarin language exams at Baptist University and a food fight in a noodle shop at the airport. I also witnessed an argument on a bus and jostling on a street in Causeway Bay.

None of these would have happened had those involved treated each other as equals and taken the time to talk rather than shout.

The Baptist University saga is complex, but at its heart is that same old concern about the creeping mainlandisation of Hong Kong. There are fewer layers to the noodle shop incident, which involved staff losing their cool with two mainland travellers. Both matters quickly found their way onto social media platforms, where the usual mud-slinging ensued. The latter has been settled with an apology from the shop, but the former rumbles on.

Hongkongers feel threatened; I get that. I understand how nationalism is created and manipulated so that the mere suggestion of words like “independence” can have sycophants howling. But there’s also another truth, best illustrated by an observation; two decades ago, people on the mainland complained that Hong Kong visitors were noisy and arrogant, and now the reverse is true. As an outsider to the dispute, I don’t perceive either side is worse and the only significant change is that Hong Kong now gets many times more mainland visitors.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about the same ethnic group and their biggest differences are the dialect they speak and, marginally, the manner in which they’re governed. Culturally, there’s no difference, with both celebrating the moon, with festivals featuring mooncakes and red packets containing money. Not liking the manner in which a person or political party governs can never be a reason to also dislike the people who are subject to such a system. I think United States President Donald Trump is a buffoon, but I would be foolish to suggest all Americans are also clowns.

There’s bound to be indignation when shopping and leisure habits are disrupted by a tourist influx. But Hong Kong has had plenty of time to adjust to that. We should also have had every opportunity to get to better know and understand our visitors. Unfortunately, it’s obvious from the continuing animosity that not enough have tried.

From my perch as a Caucasian with no vested interests, the vast majority of my interactions with mainlanders in Hong Kong have been positive. There have been curious university students, helpful work colleagues, pedestrians in need of guidance and chatty gym-goers and diners in restaurants. The negatives most often relate to being buffeted in the street by a suitcase-wheeling parade or an inconsiderate smoker.

Hong Kong likes to call itself an international city, but the numerous ethnic groups and nationalities who make it so multicultural tend to group together and rarely cross paths. Apart from cross-border marriages, this is also largely true for Hongkongers and mainlanders.

Here’s some common sense: you won’t get to know someone if you intentionally avoid them. If, in an encounter, we are rude and demeaning, expect the same treatment back. And here’s a truth: taking the time to start a conversation with a stranger from the mainland by talking about how the trip is going, if it’s for shopping or business, or even if the weather is meeting expectations, will make a world of difference, with the result bound to be positive.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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Hong Kong should waive the debt of disqualified lawmakers, following Australia’s example

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-12-08
Grenville Cross says the practice in Australia of not pursuing the debt of ejected parliamentarians – provided they have discharged their duties ‘in good faith’ – offers Hong Kong a way forward

Although the president of Hong Kong’s legislature, Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, says the Legislative Council Commission acted on legal advice in seeking the full repayment of salaries and allowances from four disqualified lawmakers, the advice has been queried in some quarters.

The fact remains that the disqualification of Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim meant that their original election was void. As such, they were disentitled to the sums paid, and the commission is within its rights in seeking their return, however imprudent that course may be.

But this is not its only course.

In October, several lawmakers in Australia, including the deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, also lost their seats. The Australian High Court decided they were ineligible because they were dual nationals, which is constitutionally prohibited. As the ejected lawmakers had already taken part in parliamentary proceedings for over a year, the repayment of salaries and entitlements would, if enforced, be a significant burden for them.

A similar situation also arose in April, when the High Court – for constitutional reasons unrelated to citizenship – found that Senator Bob Day had not been validly elected in 2016. Although the question of repayment arose, the responsible minister, Scott Ryan, said it would be unfair of the government to pursue the debt, given that Day had discharged his senatorial duties “in good faith”.

In Australia, the convention is to waive such debt. Ousted parliamentarians are given two options: pay up or apply for a waiver from the government. Provided there is no evidence of bad faith, the application of a waiver will normally be granted.

In Hong Kong, the four lawmakers seemingly acted in good faith in the Legislative Council after they were sworn in. Although they took their oaths in an irregular fashion, with two being required to retake them, they were all nonetheless ultimately seated. By contrast, the extreme antics of two other lawmakers, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, at their oath-taking resulted in them being excluded altogether.

The four seated legislators would have assumed that they had been accepted as Legco members.

In these circumstances, the Australian approach provides valuable guidance for the Legco commission, which should now reconsider its demands in light of it. This, after all, was not a case in which someone tricked their way into Legco, as happened in 1985, when Tai Chin-wah, having falsely represented himself to be a solicitor, was elected to the chamber. He was unmasked six years later.

There can be no possible objection to the commission enforcing repayment of the debts owed by Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau, whose abusive conduct violated basic norms. Their four colleagues, however, were not in that category, as the Legco president himself accepted. Ejection from Legco is itself a severe sanction, and basic fairness requires the waiver of the debts.

If, however, this does not happen, it is fanciful for people to suggest that Legco proceedings in which the four participated should be retroactively undone. Even if feasible, this would produce chaos.

In 1907, the Australian High Court resolved this very issue when it ruled that votes on legislation remain valid, even if a parliamentarian is subsequently deemed to have been invalidly elected, and this remains good law. As the judgment put it, “the proceedings of the Senate as a House of Parliament are not invalidated by the presence of a senator without title”.

Grenville Cross SC is a criminal justice analyst


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Hong Kong’s young democracy campaigners risk losing sight of the real changes needed in society

2017-10-06
Anson Au says democracy is just another form of government, far from perfect and equally prone to ideological excess. Instead of chasing universal suffrage, Hong Kong needs to negotiate the best way forward to create a better society

The past couple of weeks have seen a resurgence in the push for democracy among youth in Hong Kong. Zealous cries for a new order have filled the air once more, in the wake of the anniversary on September 28 of Occupy Central, which ignited massive dissent among thousands of youth bound to the vision of democracy.

And just two weeks ago, former governor Chris Patten concluded his four-day visit by rallying Hongkongers to the pursuit of democracy and urging Beijing to consent.

Joined by a host of global media outlets, these sentiments betray a belief in the inherent good of ­democracy – but overlook the purpose of governance itself.

We must stay grounded. ­Democracy, as with all forms of governance, is but a means to an end – which is the establishment of a good society. My research explores what constitutes a good society and what can destroy it, and it shows that the answers don’t lie in any one form of governance.

We must separate ideology from practicality in the context of governance for a good society. As history tells us, it’s when we fail to do so that a society moves to atrocious ­extremes.

First, democracy is not without its dark side. Whereas popular belief holds that it’s inherently good, political research uncovers the ­uncomfortable truth that this isn’t the case. Democracy is not built upon the premise of bringing about “the most good for the majority”. Rather, it’s structured upon “the most good decided by the majority”.

Both modern history and the ­recent past have witnessed atrocities willed into being by the majority of a given society. Minorities in a populace often belong to economically impoverished and politically marginalised categories. As such, they possess significantly less ability to resist convenient and swift suppression by a hostile, intolerant majority. In Yugoslavia, they were the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, popularly hated minorities unable to resist violence by Serb militants.

In the days leading up to the establishment of Nazi Germany, they were the already stigmatised Jews, homosexuals, elderly and disabled – powerless to resist oppression, arrest and cleansing by a regime that channelled, rather than moderated, ideological hatred among the majority.

In Rwanda, they were the Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, defenceless against the anti-Tutsi radicalism washing over the Hutu state. The result was the infamous Rwandan genocide, whose ghosts still haunt the nation and human rights committees the world over. When organised by the majority alone, the state becomes a voice for the majority alone – rather than moderate hateful sentiments harboured by the majority, it channels them.

Strongman ­tyrants can ascend to power in democracies by capitalising on ideological fervour and insecurities among the majority. We need not look very far into history: the broad, recent rise of the far right across Europe and America prove the contemporary relevance of this admonition.

Both Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France championed, to great success, Islamophobia and the rejection of refugees in appealing to lower- and middle-class xenophobia. They were only narrowly beaten by more moderate candidates.

In the UK, Brexit attracted popular support, despite the economic disasters that pundits confirmed it would bring. On the ill-informed, misleading platform that Britain could accrue more capital outside the European Union, Brexit succeeded in convincing a majority more invested in nationalism than practicality. And most recently, Donald Trump rose to the White House by targeting immigrants and trumpeting the purge of big money from governance. Manipulated for their insecurities with employment, a majority rallied behind his claims, despite his very apparent financial conflicts of interest.

Second, Hong Kong is seeing divisions between the young and old. Young adults have lashed out against older citizens for retreating from the push for democracy, ­accusing them of political apathy, or worse, treason against Hong Kong society. But difference should beget discussion, not exclusion.

The legacy of Occupy Central has been … distorted into ideological fervour among youth

Incendiary reactions to difference show how the legacy of Occupy Central has been an improved consciousness of democracy, but distorted into ideological fervour among youth not unlike that of the Red Guard and other cross-national cases in world history. The convergences evoke historical memories of very real dangers.

In China, the Red Guards turned over their families, peers, teachers and schools to state punishment. In Cambodia, French-trained cadres led by Pol Pot swept the country with party purges and fratricides for a modernised, agrarian society.

Both cases show what happens when a country’s young ideologues rally behind a mode of governance for its own sake. Families are divided; the younger and older generations are split; unrest and violence ensue. Institutions embodying tradition are destroyed, and evidence-based assessments of what’s good for society are abandoned. Uprooting a plant always pulls up with it soil, grass, and living creatures. What does a heavy-handed democratic revolution threaten to uproot – policies, relations, institutions – along with the existing mode of governance? What will fill the gaping hole left in the earth afterwards? Who will benefit?

What does a heavy-handed democratic revolution threaten to uproot along with the existing mode of governance?

Third, stop focusing on democracy. Democracy, as with any governance, is only a means to an end. Thinking otherwise gives rise to ideological sentiments with disastrous consequences, as historical precedents have shown.

Furthermore, it distracts us from discussing the changes, the actual fruits of governance, that we want to see. Affordable housing; more ­resources for health services; a better old-age living allowance.

The calls for universal suffrage fail to address how any such issues or policies would be improved.

Real, positive change can only happen in Hong Kong by negotiating at the table, not by overturning it and attempting to build a new one; by engaging with actual policies and relations, instead of an abstract “fight”; by discussing the real, concrete needs of Hong Kong citizens, more than ideals written by a few on paper. We must forego visions of governance motivated by ideology to see the ends, rather than the means, in order to build a better society and prevent disaster.

I do not blame ethnic majorities for extreme crises. Ethnic majorities do not create extreme crises, but they can empower the ones who do: ranging from the endorsement of right-wing fascism to platforms that literally fracture nations.

Democracy claims to benefit all of society, but so does virtually every other mode of governance – what matters is how it is brought to effect.

A system lives for the people – not the other way around. We must refocus on the practical consequences of governance itself.

As Nelson Mandela – at a widely televised New York town hall in 1990 with American news anchor Ted Koppel – said in response to a question about the type of economy he envisioned for South Africa: “We are not concerned with models. We are not concerned with labels. We are practical men and women whose solutions are dictated by the actual conditions existing in our country. It does not matter whether the cat is black or white – so long as it can catch mice.”

Anson Au is a visiting researcher in the Department of Sociology at the Hong Kong Baptist University and a research officer at the LSE Health and Social Care and Department of Social Policy (joint) at the London School of Economics and Political Science.