Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Asia’s world city? Hong Kong is mediocre at best, if we’re honest

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-11-21
Peter Kammerer says stagnant Hong Kong, with its low liveability rankings, need only look at Melbourne to see what a real globalised city offers residents by way of living
standards and civil liberties

Hong Kong’s government has been throwing around that tired old “Asia’s world city” tag since 2001. Anyone who gets to experience what’s on offer elsewhere knows that’s not true; it may arguably have been once, but no longer. We’ve fallen so far behind on representing global standards and values that such a claim is a joke. It’s time to rebrand, with an eye on honesty.

This was brought starkly home during a recent trip to Melbourne. I worked there in the mid-1980s and found it a pleasant enough city, but not sufficiently special to make me stay longer than two years. I moved to Hong Kong and was captivated. But the longer you stay somewhere, the more comfortable and less demanding you get; and I realise I’ve become far too complacent.

Melbourne has moved ahead by leaps and bounds since I lived there, which makes me realise how little Hong Kong has changed.

There’s culture, art and sophistication in downtown Melbourne; pedestrian precincts, roadside dining, street art and performance, free inner-city trams and large areas set aside for leisure pursuits – all with pristine air to breathe. This is a place that thinks about people and puts them first.

I’m not the only one impressed. The Economist Intelligence Unit has, for the past seven years, put Melbourne at the top of its annual global liveability ranking of 140 cities (Hong Kong placed 45th in the latest, and Singapore 35th). Lifestyle magazine Monocle’s top 25 liveable cities list for 2017 has Melbourne at number five, with Tokyo at the top, Hong Kong 15th and Singapore 21st. US consulting firm Mercer’s yearly quality of living study for expatriates ranked Melbourne at 16th, with Vienna at the top and Singapore 25th. Hong Kong only managed 71st.

These studies take into account factors like rights and freedoms, social and political stability, infrastructure, food prices, rent, public transport, education and air quality. Australian, Canadian and Western European cities usually take the top spots. In Asia, Japanese cities fare best, with Hong Kong and Singapore close behind.

Given that the research is by European and North American firms, their results understandably reflect liberal Western viewpoints.

In a world of globalised business, employment and education, it’s right to expect certain standards. Rule of law, freedom of speech and expression, and a reasonable quality of living are as essential as infrastructure, to attract major firms and talented employees. A city that doesn’t offer such fundamentals is bound to lose out. Cities are expected to follow trends and make improvements.

Melbourne has done that well and it’s paying off, with a booming economy and population growth in line to make it Australia’s biggest city by 2031. Hong Kong hasn’t had such dynamism. Worse, for all the gloating of the government’s Brand Hong Kong website about the city being “anchored on the bedrock of the rule of law”, with a “fair and stable society that cherishes freedom of expression”, there are those among us who increasingly have their doubts.

Recent comments by Beijing officials, court rulings and a continued lack of genuine democracy are just the start. High poverty levels, unfair treatment of ethnic minorities and the elderly, congested traffic and bad air quality say much; there’s been little, if any, change since we started contending to be a world city.

Those denied gay marriage, bike riders told they can’t have cycle lanes in urban areas, those lamenting the lack of outdoor eateries and shopping zones free of vehicles and diesel-choked streets, make plain we’re not what we claim to be.

So let’s rebrand. The obvious choice is Asia’s Mediocre City.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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If American and Chinese youth believe in closer Sino-US ties under Trump, it’s time the experts did as well

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-11-21

Tom Plate says optimism among randomly sampled youth about the future of the China-US relationship, and the Donald Trump presidency, may well prove the power of positive thinking

Surprise! Few parents, perhaps ­including those in brand-adoring Asia, realise that Stanford University, on America’s sunny West Coast, is tougher for kids to get into than Princeton, Harvard or Yale. One star centre to which some of its best students – and faculty – gravitate is the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Centre (Aparc), in the heart of the campus. It focuses only on the Asia-Pacific, and no one does it better – whether Harvard or anyone else.

And so, given the fallout from President Donald Trump’s jaunt through Asia, and as I’d been previously invited by the research centre to hold forth on China-US relations, the moment to head up north from southern California had come.

True confession: put me in front of avid students, and I am the happiest clam in the harbour. During the session, one laser-sharp undergraduate, born in Vietnam, had a subtle China question that almost knocked me over. The first-year ­student inquired with indignation why I (allegedly) underrated her home country’s historic and heroic resilience to China’s aggression.

I managed to evade her total moral condemnation only by ­deploying Henry Kissinger’s famous quip about how one can do virtually anything successfully with the pragmatic Vietnamese – except invade them. She liked that.

At the end of the excellent 90 minutes, a brief opinion questionnaire I’d prepared was passed out to seminar attendees. Would relations deteriorate under Trump? Was war with China all but certain? And, if politicians on both sides of the Pacific could be kept from interfering in the bilateral relationship, would the American and Chinese people, even left to themselves, wind up with a better outcome?

I took their responses back to my university – Loyola Marymount (LMU) – and put the same triad of questions to my Asia class. Would there be significant differences of perspective? After all, the Stanford group weighed in much older – ­invited were faculty as well as other adult professionals from upscale Palo Alto, in addition to Stanford students; my Los Angeles sampling was comprised entirely of LMU students, aged 20 to 23.

Surprise again! There were hardly any significant differences. By a composite near landslide of 2-1, the vote was that relations with China would get better under the controversial Trump. Secondly, only 4 per cent felt war was all but certain. (Lopsided and inspirational.) And 78 per cent assessed that US-China relations would improve if only political figures on both sides would park their big egos elsewhere and leave everything to “the people”.

That seemed like genuine California dreaming to me, but what do I know? We so-called experts tend to get bogged down in the details of transpacific tensions [4] and differences – and they are serious ones. But it would be a happy notion ­indeed were the China-US relationship not so poisoned in American public opinion as to be beyond ­redemption – as suggested by these two campus groups informally and very unscientifically surveyed.

As for comparable mainland opinion, this is notoriously hard to gauge. Just as American polling establishments have been messing up – again and again their predictions miss the mark – scientifically solid opinion-taking in China is an even tougher pursuit.

Perhaps a touch more revealing, precisely because it is self-generated and random, are the views of the Chinese people in the heat of social media usage. While monitored by government censors, their social media is nonetheless so sprawling, robust and accessed that, at this point, it counts as virtually China’s “great wall” of self-reflection and revelation. (Westerners who think the Chinese people have utterly no thoughts of their own are very seriously misinformed.)

So a bright, bilingual mainland-born LMU student undertook a survey of Chinese social media opinion of post-trip Trump. Like my quickie polls, this was no rigorous social-science sampling. But it was an ­honest snapshot – and the results were similarly unexpected.

It turns out that the Chinese like what they see of Trump because he is so atypical. Social media users, discouraged from expressing blatant political views, tend to depict him as a TV star and “web celebrity”, with “funny facial expressions” and “using interesting words”.

Reports my researcher: “For these people, Trump is not a negative character for China. He seems really funny and he is nothing like other serious presidents. For them, that seems a big plus.”

Not everyone was positive, of course. Some worried that businessman Trump is one sly fox of a trade exploiter; some referred to the Chinese saying: “A weasel paying a New Year’s call to a chicken, with no good intentions.”

They view Trump as not stupid but worry that he will drag China into the complicated North Korea issue even more.

But, on the whole, the TV star image of Trump appears to be playing nicely in China, notably better than the dreary picture presented by the East Coast US news media.

What I learned last week was no more than a split-second snapshot of the moment, at the end of the day no more conclusive or predictive than is – say – the Dow Jones Industrial stock average at midday.

But for those of us who like to stay positive about the China-America relationship, a bit of sunshine cannot be so bad for our sense of balance. Professor Gi-Wook Shin, the Aparc director, lifted his eyebrows as high as mine over the apparent optimism, in north and south California. Positive thinking can generate a power all its own.

Columnist and professor Tom Plate, whose recent book on China is Yo-Yo Diplomacy, thanks LMU Asia Media staffers Deng Yuchan and Yi Ning Wong for their assistance


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Six reasons why Catalonia is no model for Taiwan’s independence movement

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-10-18
Cary Huang says a number of factors, but mainly that such a move is likely to lead to major retribution from Beijing and even war, make independence a non-starter. Besides, the global community has already made its position on ‘one China’ perfectly clear

It is no surprise that Taiwan has paid close attention to the recent referendum that took place, amid much controversy, in Catalonia.

But a bigger question is whether independence referendums by Catalans in Spain, as well as among Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, can serve as an important object lesson for the island state, which is debating whether to take a similar approach.

Taiwanese Premier William Lai Ching-te’s recent comments on his commitment to independence further stoke such sentiments, and calls for Taiwan’s legislature to pass amendments legalising such an action are increasing.

However, the differences between the China-Taiwan issue and Spain-Catalonia are more significant than the similarities.

First, in Taiwan, there is not the sense of immediacy that has inspired Catalans to seek outright independence. Despite having just 20 remaining diplomatic allies, Taiwan enjoys de facto independence, similar to any sovereign state, with its own political system, government and army, plus the right to issue its own passport and currency. Catalonia, on the other hand, is officially one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain.

Second, a referendum on Taiwanese statehood would not receive the same international support the Catalans have received, as a great majority of nations, including all major powers, recognise the one-China principle, though many Taiwanese might believe they have no less justification for their endeavour than the Catalans, the Kurds, the Scottish and the Quebecois under international law.

Third, Catalonia accounts for 20 per cent of Spain’s GDP, and many in the wealthy northeastern Spanish region are convinced they would be better off having full control over that wealth. The Taiwan economy, on the other hand, is heavily reliant on trade with the mainland and any political separation would be disastrous for the Taiwanese economy.

Fourth, it is hard to see how a declaration of independence would markedly improve the lives and welfare of Taiwanese, as it would not change Taiwan’s status on the international stage.

Fifth, a fundamental difference is that while both the Spanish and Catalan governments are democratic and their political values are almost identical, there is a huge gap in politics across the Taiwan Strait.

As a thriving free democracy in Asia, Taiwan maintains a model of self-determination, freedom and protection of human rights – the core principles of the United Nations – while mainland China, despite its rising economic clout, remains the world’s last major communist one-party state.

Thus, any attempt to advance the island’s independence would be met with wholesale repression, and possibly war, from Beijing. China has not only promised, but legislated for military action should Taiwan ever declare independence.

Finally, and most importantly, we should note that while the Spanish confrontation is between an armed central government and an unarmed local government, the China-Taiwan conflict would be between two major armies in Asia – a war between them would not only destroy regional peace but also undermine global stability.

Under the current situation, as it is unrealistic to hope that the two political adversaries can live in the same bed or permanently divorce, the best tactic to achieve peace is to maintain the “status quo” before any permanent solution is found.

Any Taiwanese effort to abandon this tactic will risk Beijing’s wrath and could make the US reassess its assistance, which is crucial for the island’s survival.

Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post


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退出UNESCO反映的「新單邊主義」

信報財經新聞
社評 社評
2017-10-14

美國總統特朗普對二戰後的國際政經秩序看不順眼已非新聞,從北約到歐盟到國際自由貿易協定如TPP(跨太平洋夥伴關係協定)都一一成為口誅筆伐的對象。到最近,狂人總統已不再滿足於以嘴巴和Twitter斥罵,開始付諸實質行動去改變甚至「拆毀」有關秩序。美國政府於周四宣布退出聯合國教科文組織(UNESCO),明年十二月底生效,令這個致力全球文物古蹟保育及文化交流的組織不但失去最重要的創會成員,更失去每年數以億元計的經費。

美國國務院解釋,退出UNESCO有幾個原因,包括組織有明顯反以色列傾向、開支過大及發展方向不對頭需要大規模改革等。在退出後,美國會保留觀察員身份提供專業意見,以示不會跟這個重要國際組織一刀兩斷。

特朗普政府批評UNESCO反以色列不能算完全沒有理由,畢竟這個組織二○一一年投票通過巴勒斯坦成為正式會員,變相認同巴勒斯坦作為主權國家的地位,開了聯合國屬下組織的先例;以色列固然不爽,作為以色列主要盟友的美國也不是味兒。事實上,前總統奧巴馬就因為UNESCO接納巴勒斯坦為成員而拒繳五億美元經費,以示抗議。

不過,美國跟UNESCO的恩怨情仇已經糾結多年,雙方並不純粹因為以色列而決裂。追本溯源,UNESCO於一九四五年由美國主催成立,本意是傳播西方特別是美國文化及意識形態,增強軟實力,向專權政府以至共產主義陣營施壓。但隨着七八十年代大量第三世界國家加入,美國的影響力大不如前,UNESCO逐漸成為批判西方文化霸權的先鋒,更一度提出打造「國際資訊新秩序」(New International Information Order)的口號,倡議建立非西方的傳媒網絡,為第三世界發聲。

到一九八三年,當時的列根政府忍無可忍,以UNESCO過分政治化及親蘇聯(俄羅斯前身)為理由宣布退出組織,震動國際社會。二○○一年爆發九一一恐襲後,小布殊政府為爭取不同陣營國家支持,才決定讓美國重新加入UNESCO。既有如此這般的前嫌積怨,加上美國重返組織後未能左右大局,包括影響下任總幹事的任命,破格的特朗普於是眼不眨、眉不皺說退就退。

更重要的是,特朗普退出UNESCO只是他厲行美國優先策略、重整二戰國際政治秩序的其中一步而已,「反枱」動作陸續有來。就以被視為戰後金融秩序基石的世界銀行為例,美國雖然因股權架構設計而保有重大決策否決權,但特朗普正準備向它開刀,不但堅決反對世界銀行的新一輪增資建議,並要求這組織改變貸款及資助政策,特別是要減少對中等收入國家如中國的援助及合作計劃。

本周末在華盛頓舉行的國際貨幣基金組織及世銀年會,美國代表肯定會全力推動特朗普的看法,呼籲改革,估計年會或陷入爭議,難有成果,還有可能引發中美之間的新一輪齟齬。

UNESCO、世銀以外,特朗普對美國過去簽訂的多邊協定(不管是政治抑或經濟層面)同樣是推翻的推翻,修改的修改,一股顛覆氣勢。伊朗核協議是經過美、歐、俄、伊朗等國多年斡旋及互諒互讓下才達成的,算是通過外交談判避免核武器擴散的罕有例子。可是特朗普卻一而再威脅不確認協議,且有意讓國會對伊朗施加新的制裁條款,惹起伊朗及其他國家反感,隨時令限核協議土崩瓦解。

此外,北美自由貿易協定(NAFTA)是美國、加拿大、墨西哥三國經輾轉談判在九十年代中達成,二十多年來令三國形成強固的經濟貿易共同體及產業鏈,也令製造業如美國車廠可用盡三地的好處,減低成本,提升競爭力。特朗普上台未幾便不斷要求大幅重寫這份互利互惠的協定,置貿易夥伴的合作及利益於不顧,甚至不惜威脅單方面退出協議。日前他會見加拿大總理杜魯多時,就即席公開說北美自由貿易協定問題甚多,「死不足惜」。

種種舉動清楚顯示,特朗普政府治下的美國正大踏步走向新的孤立主義、單邊主義,片面強調本國利益,無視國際合作及共存共榮關係。按這個趨勢發展下去,美國在聯合國、IMF、世界貿易組織的角色將面臨大變,從領導者、捍衞者變成顛覆者、破壞者,這不但會削弱得來不易的多邊合作框架,更有可能令國際政經秩序出現權力真空,各種爭議、矛盾更糾結難解!


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After the Vegas massacre and European terror attacks, is it safe for Hong Kong children to study abroad?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-10-09
Mike Rowse says parents must strike a balance when deciding where children should study. Anxiety over American gun violence or terrorism in London can’t be the only factor

The recent tragic events in Las Vegas and spate of terrorist attacks in Europe will have all parents whose children study overseas pondering whether they made the right decision.

After all, Hong Kong has many fine schools and universities. Since we live in, by any measure, one of the world’s safest cities, why send our precious children thousands of miles away, where they might be in danger and we will see them less often? The counter arguments are familiar to all families on this path: some courses are not available here or are better taught elsewhere; living in another country is an enriching experience for most young people on top of any academic benefit; being apart from relatives and friends helps teach self-reliance and is an important step in the maturing process. Where the correct balance lies depends on individual circumstances.

My two teenage children were both leaning toward subjects not covered well or at all by Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions and, after research, felt the best options were in North America, with the UK as a possible fallback. Hence, our family has spent the last three summer holidays scouting suitable colleges for them. One visit to California actually included a side trip to Las Vegas, about a four-hour journey from Los Angeles by car. Press reports of the carnage there have also included some other alarming statistics. The Financial Times, for example, quoted Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organisation, as saying there had been 274 mass shootings (in which at least four people were killed or injured) so far in 2017.

After weighing the alternatives, my daughter chose the University of California Los Angeles and started there last month. London would have been cheaper but she is studying film making and the proximity to Hollywood was too much of a draw. Would she have chosen differently if the Las Vegas mass shooting had come earlier? Highly unlikely, nor would I have sought to persuade her. Would London – scene of several terrorist incidents in recent years – be any safer?

An officer stands guard at a police cordon near a house in Newport, South Wales, on September 20, during investigations into the September 15 terror attack on a London underground tube train carriage. Photo: AFPImportant decisions in life should be taken on the overall balance of arguments. Provided we are not reckless in the thinking process and don’t ignore some highly relevant and probable adverse conditions, we have to accept that there is a degree of risk in all options. A slightly higher risk of being the victim of a gun crime in the US, or a terrorist attack in the UK, should not be the determining factors.

Similar mental juggling is needed when considering other life choices, such as involvement in sports. When my two (now adult) sons were growing up, both played rugby and football, as did most of their mates. Parents were relatively relaxed at that time about what were perceived as very remote prospects of serious injury. We now know much more about the dangers of incurring injuries in contact sports. Recent studies of the brains of deceased NFL players found evidence of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in 99 per cent of cases.

When my daughter decided to play rugby, naturally the question arose as to whether to steer her toward a more gentle activity. Clearly there are dangers, as parents are reminded every time a child comes home bruised and limping. On the other hand, rugby is a very healthy form of exercise, and promotes camaraderie and team spirit. Moreover, coaches these days are much more alert to safety issues.

This combination of photos provided by Boston University shows sections from a normal brain, top, and from the brain of former University of Texas football player Greg Ploetz, bottom, with stage IV chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Photo: APThis once again comes down to balancing the factors and, without being reckless, reaching a reasoned decision. There are also family politics to account for. Parents of very young children are entitled to be fairly autocratic in making important decisions on behalf of their offspring. But, as children move into their teens and grow more mature, decisions become much more of a joint enterprise. Parents slip into the role of advisers, ensuring that all relevant issues have been considered. After that, they basically have to respect their children’s choices.

I won’t pretend this is a painless process. At moments of severe strain on the nerves, I find the occasional silent prayer, perhaps accompanied by a stiff drink, can provide some solace.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises.