Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Next head of HKU, Zhang Xiang, must lay down a strict code of conduct for students and staff

CommentInsight & Opinion

Tony Kwok says the incoming head must guide the University of Hong Kong – once Asia’s finest – to adopt an attitude of zero tolerance towards disrespectful and rowdy conduct in the name of academic freedom


To many insider observers, the most unfortunate incident in the recent history of the University of Hong Kong was the student protest controversy over the visit of Li Keqiang, then a vice-premier, in 2011, which played a part in Professor Tsui Lap-chee’s decision to resign the vice-chancellorship in 2014.

Under Tsui’s leadership from 2002 to 2014, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as being among the world’s best institutions, and arguably Asia’s finest. Tsui is regarded as one of the university’s best vice-chancellors; had he stayed, he could have taken the university to greater heights.

Today, the university is no longer Asia’s best, and some of its faculty and students appear more focused on taking part in social movements and political activities than on academic studies. Their irresponsible behaviour has brought the university into disrepute.

Hence, one would have expected a big welcome for the appointment of a renowned scientist to replace the outgoing incumbent vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson. Zhang Xiang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, a top US university, has a distinguished track record in scientific research. Yet, his appointment was greeted with disdain by some in Hong Kong simply because he was born on the mainland.

Some said his English is not good enough, even though he has taught in America for years.

Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU’s academic staff association, even said: “I’m worried that under his leadership, HKU will just be another Peking University or Tsinghua University.”

In Zhang’s interview with the media, questions focused on how he would uphold the core value of academic freedom in the university. Specifically, he was asked if he would allow Hong Kong independence to be freely discussed on campus. Zhang’s answer was short and sharp: while reaffirming the importance of academic freedom, he said it has its own limits.

Zhang should lay down the limits soon after taking office. I propose that he revises the code of conduct for staff and students, drawing from the experience of UC Berkeley, where he has been teaching.

The university lists 12 values that all staff and students must uphold in its “Standards of Ethical Conduct”. They include: individual responsibility and accountability; respect for others; compliance with laws and regulations; and the proper use of university resources.

Professor Tsui Lap-chee stepped down as HKU vice-chancellor in 2014. Under his leadership, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as Asia’s finest. Photo: Nora Tam

If the above values are incorporated into the HKU’s code of conduct, the following disgraceful activities – which have happened in various Hong Kong universities and schools over the past few years – would be banned from campus:

 Anonymous posters with provocative language displayed.

 Activities promoting Hong Kong independence, or any other political activities.

 University staff getting involved in political activities.

 Disrespectful behaviour at school events, such as a graduation ceremony.

 Abusive shouting at university council members and government officials.

Rather than taking a lenient stance, as in the past, the university should now take a zero-tolerance approach to all breaches of the code of conduct.

The new vice-chancellor faces a tough road ahead. He will need public support to prevail against the localist forces in the university and local media – the same forces that caused the university to lose one of its greatest leaders, Professor Tsui, in 2014.

Tony Kwok is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor at HKU Space, and an adviser to Our Hong Kong Foundation


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Is China planning to take Taiwan by force in 2020?

CommentInsight & Opinion

Deng Yuwen believes Beijing is coming to the conclusion that if it is to achieve reunification with Taiwan, as Xi Jinping has pledged to do at the 19th party congress, it has to do so by force, and sooner rather than later

Does Beijing have a timetable for seizing control of Taiwan? This has been a hot topic for the media and among experts on cross-strait relations. I believe such a timetable exists. If the timeline was rather vague in the past, it has become clearer now. And the US security strategy that President Donald Trump recently unveiled will hasten the pace of Beijing’s plan to take back the island, probably in 2020.

President Xi Jinping’s report at the 19th Communist Party congress offers some clues. In the address, he identified “one country, two systems” and the reunification of the motherland as a fundamental strategy of a “new era” for China. This provides a clue to Beijing’s timeline for resolving the Taiwan problem.

According to the report, the new era refers to a period from now until the middle of this century. By 2050, China is to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and become a modern socialist power.

A list of 14 items describe this new era, and one of them involves reunification with Taiwan. This means Beijing must take control of Taiwan by 2050 at the latest.

Plainly, as long as Taiwan remains outside the Chinese fold, the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation cannot happen.

No surprise, then, to hear Xi say that Beijing would never allow “any individual, any organisation, any political party, at any time or by any means, to split any single piece of the Chinese territory”.

Last month, a Chinese diplomat’s fighting words over the idea of the US sending navy ships to Taiwan were also revealing. Li Kexin, a minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington, warned that port-of-call exchanges between the US and Taiwan would not be tolerated.

“The day a US Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” he told mainland media.

While it is unlikely the PLA would really start a war over a US Navy visit to Taiwan, the words reflect a consistent belief of Chinese leaders: that Taiwan has to be taken back by force.

Since Xi came to power, the party has been open about its wish for the PLA to be battle-ready. No doubt the army’s first target would be Taiwan.

Also, Xi’s sense of calling would never allow him to tolerate Taiwan’s indefinite separation from the mainland. Whatever one may think of Xi, most people would agree that he is driven by a strong sense of national pride.

That is why, as soon as he came to power, he launched the “Chinese dream” campaign and set out the goal of achieving national rejuvenation. In the party congress address, he painted a picture of the new era that reflected his thinking and linguistic style.

As a leader who is bent on raising China’s global stature to a level that rivals the nation’s glory years in Han and Tang times, Xi would surely not tolerate an indefinite split between Taiwan and the mainland.

Nonetheless, the points raised so far only signal that Beijing has a timetable in mind to unify Taiwan with China, but they do not explain why the PLA could move to take Taiwan by force in 2020.

A combination of factors could point to a military confrontation.

They include Trump’s labelling of China as a strategic rival in his administration’s national security strategy; Beijing’s worry about the pro-independence movement in Taiwan and its belief that it now has the ability to resolve the Taiwan problem once and for all; a misjudgment by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen; and Xi’s sense of his own legacy.

First of all, why would Beijing opt for unification by force, rather than through the peaceful negotiation it has always championed? There are four reasons. First, after extending economic help to the island for years, Beijing has still failed to win the hearts and minds of its people. Instead, cross-strait relations have deteriorated.

Second, as one generation of Taiwanese replaces another, the “Chinese” identity among the people will only grow weaker.

Third, the influence of Taiwan’s political parties is waning. Even if the Kuomintang wins back power, it would not be in a position to lead cross-strait unification.

Fourth, more and more Chinese are calling for unification by force.

Thus, though on the surface Beijing has continued to call for a peaceful reunification, it has in fact ditched the idea.

As Beijing believes it has to use force to reunite with Taiwan, the next step would be to find a good time to do so. The year 2020 offers such an opportunity.

That’s the year when China would be approaching the first of its “two centenary” goals – the establishment of a xiaokang, or moderately prosperous, society by 2021, the 100th year of the founding of the Communist Party.

This would act as a driving force for China to take back Taiwan by force. If China becomes a well-off nation with Taiwan in its fold, it would mean a historic achievement for Xi.

Next, Trump’s national security strategy not only labels China and Russia as America’s “strategic rivals”, it also pledges to maintain strong ties with Taiwan. This will quicken Beijing’s plans to take back Taiwan by force.

In reality, China and the US are, of course, strategic rivals. But by stating it in its security strategy, the US indicates a shift in its long-term policy on China, letting it be known that it would seek to contain China rather than work with it. This would lead Beijing to conclude that it should resolve the Taiwan problem sooner rather than later.

Is the PLA ready for such a battle? In a recent interview, China analyst Ian Easton said he believed the Chinese military would not be ready for an attack in 2020 because of the slow pace of military reform. However, many Chinese analysts would not agree with that view.

At the 19th party congress last October, Xi pledged a major upgrade in mechanisation and the communications systems in the armed forces by 2020, which would greatly enhance the country’s strategic capabilities.

By 2035, he said, China would have completely modernised its defence forces; by the middle of the century, it would become a world-class military force.

The military has come a long way since reforms were launched four years ago. And fighting a war would be the best way to gauge its improvements.

In today’s China, more and more people are advocating the use of force to unify Taiwan with the mainland.

A series of military drills focused on Taiwan in recent days has also raised speculation that the mainland is preparing itself for a military invasion. It is likely that such “encirclement patrols” might become routine.

All is set for Beijing to unify with Taiwan by force, except for one thing – a pretext or a reason to take action. Emboldened by US support, the Taiwanese government that Tsai leads may well test China’s bottom line by further cementing its ties with America, such as with the proposed exchanges between US and Taiwanese navies.

Finally, whether Beijing decides to mobilise against Taiwan in 2020 will still depend on the decision of its leaders.

Xi may be tempted to secure the historic achievement of reunification as part of his legacy. Furthermore, if war breaks out, the peacetime systems and procedures will have to be set aside.

This will allow Xi to stay in power beyond his expected retirement in 2022, to give him more time to work on realising the Chinese dream of rejuvenation.

If Beijing takes up arms against Taiwan in 2020, there will be formidable changes for East Asia and the world. North Korea may also risk waging war on South Korea, if its nuclear capabilities are not eradicated earlier.

I do not want to see war breaking out. For this reason, we must pay more attention to what happens in 2020.

Deng Yuwen is a researcher at the Charhar Institute think tank. This article is translated from Chinese

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China is beating America on foreign policy: just compare Rex Tillerson and Wang Yi

CommentInsight & Opinion

Tom Plate says while China’s Wang Yi is confident and optimistic, Rex Tillerson appears to be on shaky ground, especially amid mixed messages from the White House. If America wants to keep its lead in global affairs, a clear statement of purpose is the first priority

If you’d like a snapshot of the current state of US diplomacy versus the state of Chinese diplomacy, simply compare how the two top diplomats of each country are doing.

Whereas the foreign minister of China looks well-suited, secure and competent, the American one looks shaky, even over his head.

Let’s start with the American secretary of state, Mr Rex Wayne Tillerson. Unaccustomed as I am to defending former US oil executives, still, in all decency, somebody might tender a nice word for the once CEO and chair of ExxonMobil. Though Secretary Tillerson is on the outs with his boss and may soon be flat out of office, he is not remotely the weakest appointment in the Donald Trump administration.

Tillerson had been well-touted by widely respected former defence secretary Robert Gates, as well as by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. The appointment took place in February. It has been a bumpy ride ever since.

Striking gold is never easy, whether in vital appointments or in the big-time oil business; but, in the field of international diplomacy, itself a slippery, oily place, Tillerson found himself on extremely unfamiliar turf. Not to be crude about it, but reports out of Washington say his days are numbered.

In all fairness, world politics is more complicated and inclusive than ever, so perhaps the job of chief US diplomat is not suited for mere mortals any more, no matter how germane the resume. The energy-industry careerist’s cosmopolitanism came from extensive foreign business travel, but international diplomacy is a more complex drill.

At the same time, his podium persona lacks that off-putting slickness that makes one question the trustworthiness: Tillerson speaks without giving you the feeling that maybe you are being lied to. He also comes across as an actual adult – a stand-out trait in the Trump administration.

Tillerson, even if he had the academic credentials and background of a Henry Kissinger, labours for a testy boss whose own weak grasp of international issues seems not to deter him from putting his hex on Rex. These mixed-message wobbles, especially on an issue as volatile as North Korea, are unnerving and can nudge the conduct of American foreign policy off-track.

On the Chinese side, career diplomats in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that gigantic headquarters building in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, must be on a high. By contrast with their global competitor, Chinese foreign policy, as currently enunciated, seems relatively forward-looking and coherent; and when they compare Tillerson to their boss, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, their morale must soar higher still.

Mr Wang is a career Chinese diplomat who is trilingual, in English and Japanese, and impresses his interlocutors for “always thinking strategically, never losing focus” (as one prominent former Asian prime minister tells us) and, as another source put it, gives off a confident air that his China “is on a par with, if not exceeding the US, in many ways”.

Foreign Minister Wang’s confidence was evident in a speech earlier this month in Beijing: “China has no intention to change or displace the United States [but] … ever more extensive cooperation and close exchanges at different levels have tied the two countries’ interests closely together. There is far more that they share than they disagree upon. Cooperation leads to win-win outcomes while confrontation can only result in a lose-lose situation. This is a plain truth that anyone with a strategic vision and sober mind will recognise. It is a trend that will not bend to the will of any individuals. Recognising this, China and the US need to find ways to better get along with each other.”

The well-crafted speech went on to declare: “Trying to reverse the trend of globalisation will be futile … Those who pursue protectionism will lock themselves in a dark room deprived of light and air … We will see light at the end of the tunnel as long as we keep moving forward.”

Wang was diplomatically indirect about some hot issues, but his meaning was unmistakable. “Some countries outside this region seem to feel uncomfortable with the calm waters in the South China Sea and are still looking for opportunities to stir up trouble. However, just as the high mountains cannot stop the river from flowing to the ocean, the positive trend in the South China Sea cannot be reversed.”

Not that further punctuation about China’s intent was necessary, but Wang chose to conclude this way: “Let me end by quoting from a poem, ‘With the rising tide and ­favourable wind, it is time to sail the ship and ride the waves’.”

The message to Washington, and the world, could not be plainer.

Whether the US response comes from Tillerson or from a new secretary of state, a thoughtful and well-articulated locution of vision is needed before the world starts to wonder if we still have it in us to match up against the talent in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Trump administration will certainly not achieve this by cutting the budget of the State Department, demeaning the great US foreign service, and trivialising its secretary of state. Whatever its faults and mistakes, China doesn’t do that.

The US appears to be in the midst of an immense self-demotion in foreign-policy intensity and vision. Contrast this with Wang’s optimism.

Professor Tom Plate, author of the recent Yo-Yo Diplomacy and the four-book Giants of Asia series, is Loyola Marymount University’s Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Affairs and vice-president of the Pacific Century Institute


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How Hong Kong can harness youth power to create future leaders

CommentInsight & Opinion

Gary Wong says the response to government initiatives to enhance youth engagement in policymaking shows they are willing to invest their time in public service, and calls for the systematic building of a young talent pool to benefit society

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has taken concrete action to recruit young people under 35 to public service. The government also pledged to set up a Youth Development Commission in the coming year. The objective is to adopt a broader mindset and higher-level thinking for more “down-to-earth” youth policies.

The recently concluded “Pilot Member Self-recommendation Scheme for Youth”, to recruit 11 members aged below 35 for five committees, attracted over 1,000 applicants. This shows a significant number of youths are willing to invest their time in public service.

There are about 470 advisory and statutory bodies in Hong Kong, with some 4,000 community members appointed to them. According to the government’s reply to questions raised by lawmakers in early 2010, only 25 committees had members who were under 30, and the average age of unofficial members in various advisory bodies was 47. Hence, suitable young candidates must be recruited in the next five years.

Apart from consultation work, the government may also collaborate with more young people at the district level.

District officers may consider recruiting qualified youths as “social designers”, to benefit from their innovative thinking, encourage their community feelings and use their talents to build stronger connections with social enterprises and community organisations, to design better and more attractive community programmes.

This idea stems from the experience of Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, who founded the “Youth Hub” to encourage young people to join the forces of social innovation, and to increase civic participation in solving social problems. I would encourage the Hong Kong government to take the lead in promoting the concept of “community policy labs”, starting with pilot districts and collaborating with the West Kowloon Cultural District or the Kai Tak development area, for instance, to find more creative ideas. The upcoming Policy Innovation and Coordination Office may also help coordinate innovative district projects.

Hong Kong does not lack young talent. If we look at the around 100 recipients each year of the Hong Kong Scholarship for Excellence Scheme, launched in 2014, it is evident that they are all versatile and promising individuals. If we also consider the young elites studying at local universities, there is clearly no shortage of political talent in this city.

The question is, has the government been actively and strategically developing a talent pool? For example, if the government aims to promote a diversified economy in the next 10 years – focusing on sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biomedicine, smart city, and financial technology – should it be designing specific scholarships that nurture young talent in science, technology and computer science?

How then can they be invited to join relevant government committees in the future?

Hong Kong needs to build a young talent pool in a systematic way, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders to run the administration. I believe that once the government finds the right solution and dares to innovate and make a breakthrough, young people with political ability and integrity will come forward to contribute to society, and rebuild the long-lost sense of youth engagement in Hong Kong.

Gary Wong Chi-him is co-convenor of Path of Democracy think tank


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

CommentInsight & Opinion
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