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

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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Carrie Lam has squandered her good start as Hong Kong chief executive with recent missteps

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Alice Wu says the chief executive began well in office but her refusal to mediate between opposing camps in the legislature and her defence of Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng have betrayed Hong Kong people’s hopes

It has been reported that Huang Lanfa, a deputy director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, has praised Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for having got off to a good start since taking office.

Well, technically, Lam did have a good start. She began her term with a pretty high rating, as the public was euphoric over the end of Leung Chun-ying’s reign. She pulled off a few clever political manoeuvres as the chief executive-elect: her courtesy visits to Beijing’s liaison office, the office of the foreign ministry and the People’s Liberation Army garrison were delicately handled and clearly signalled that she intended to do things differently.

On her first day, she allocated HK$5 billion to education – a smart move as no one would object to more resources for that sector. It’s up there with “kiss the baby” in terms of political sure-wins.

And so Hong Kong did feel tentatively renewed. Reaching across the political aisle to get the support of the opposition and ticking an election pledge off her list in her first week of office was indeed a good start. At the time, the public held out some hope for Lam’s ability to “heal the social divide”.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long. Being insensitive to the Rohingya crisis and making her first trip to Myanmar to talk business made Hong Kong look bad. Refusing to mediate between rival camps in the legislature over proposed changes to their rule book made Lam herself look bad. It exposed her unwillingness to mend divides. So her comments on “improving the executive-legislative relationship” as “the first thing the government will be working on” were just talk. When the opportunity presented itself to play the role, she passed.

The latest controversy over Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng-wah is now way out of hand. I’m glad that Lam has found a BFF in Cheng, so much so that Lam has repeatedly stuck her neck out for Cheng over the illegal structures in her homes. When the secretary for justice breaks the law, it is not tolerance, which Lam aggravatingly keeps asking the people for, that we need. What the public needs is to know that officials will do the right thing. Cheng, along with Lam, failed miserably. Cheng can chalk it up to her political inexperience, but what’s Lam’s excuse?

Lam feels she can relate to Cheng when it comes to “being too busy to handle private affairs”. But as chief executive, her priority – and the theme of her entire election campaign – is to “connect”, relate to the common folk, and not the privileged few who think that breaking the law should be tolerated.

With her “tolerance” for illegal structures, Lam has not only compromised her own integrity, but also the trust – the little there was to begin with – people have in the government and her relationship with her “friends” in the legislature. There is no doubt that Cheng is manna from political heaven for the opposition, and they will ride the abomination that Cheng has managed to become in just weeks for all it’s worth.

How quickly this city’s first female chief executive reverted back to her lead-tainted water buck-passing bureaucratic self. How fast this government has degenerated into one that cares not for personal failures. How quickly Lam has gone back on her words on easing social frustrations. Nothing is more infuriating than being talked down to in brazen bureaucratese.

The pro-establishment camp better start evaluating how much of a political liability Lam poses for it. Lam certainly isn’t looking out for them.

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

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As America heads back to a future of small-minded thinking, can China seize the chance to lead?

CommentInsight & Opinion

Tom Plate says the US’ latest foreign policy ideas of ‘America First’, war preparations and a single winner are not actually new, and are not well thought out


In the pantheon of American movies, 1985’s Back to the Future does not rank at the top of temple Hollywood, as do canonical masterpieces such as CasablancaGone With the WindLawrence of Arabia, etc. Yet the movie title alone enriched American argot, and works perfectly to capture the latest turn in US foreign policy. Yes, it looks like it may be “back to the future” again, as in … war preparation.

The Trump administration has revealed defence priorities that have the chilling feel of a cold war emphasis – rather than a no-war aspiration. The world has just been told that the 2019 Pentagon budget – topped up at US$716 billion – comes packaged as an “aggressive defence strategy”. Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, viewed as one of this bizarre administration’s more balanced brains, cites threats from China and Russia. Both political left and right, argue some US think-tank types, seem in increasing concurrence on two nostrums. One is that the Indo-Pacific region is the globe’s number one geopolitical theatre (agree). The second is that America must do much more to counter an “increasingly authoritarian, mercantilist and aggressive” China.

Who knows what the US now wants, but what is worrisome is the ever-hovering Law of Unintended Consequences: one builds up for peace but winds up with war.

This depressing drift reflects conceptual minimalism – an ideology of win-lose, the default of us-vs-them, and rejection of visionary global leadership for petty policy provincialism. “America First does not mean America alone”, President Donald Trump insisted at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland. “When the United States grows, so does the world.” But how can that be the case if it grows small-minded?

Small minds tend not to beget big ideas. One of America’s great diplomats was the late George Kennan, who coined – and mostly even defined – the iconic policy of “containment” as the needed antidote to the poison of the former Soviet Union. And though Kennan’s excoriation of Soviet communism never waned one bit at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where he retired to become an unforgettable teacher, the true genius of the containment notion was its aim: not to provoke uncertainty but offer a bedrock of predictability.

But when the USSR collapsed from internal decay, the simplicity of this organising idea went poof as well. One day, out of frustration, a few Washington influentials trekked to Princeton hoping the master might give birth to a new trope, as it were, to reframe US policy. But according to dinner participants (alas, I was not present), Kennan resisted the challenge with the sigh that world was exploding in too many directions for conceptual miniaturisation. At the same time Kennan, who died in 1995 aged 101, had little appetite to advise anyone to go “back to the future”.

The provincialism of Trump is a symptom of the current default to the past, including tariff tantrums and potential trade wars that will harm US consumers as well as foreign producers; but he is not the core cause. The new provincialism goes deep: after all, Trump’s more thoughtful predecessor preferred “leading from behind”. But whether from the back or front, Asian nations from the Philippines to Vietnam – and perhaps also Singapore and Malaysia – need the US to act with intelligence and foresight. What is needed is a committed effort to formulate a cosmopolitan internationalism, fiendishly multisided; but rarely is anything truly important easy to achieve.

The problem with the win-lose paradigm is that someone always loses; the argument for win-win is, “why risk being a loser”? It should not be hard to decide which of these two approaches offers the best odds for geopolitical and economic stability. This outlook would prove less difficult to realise were it matched by an expansive dose of cosmopolitanism from China. Americans worry – and increasingly so – that Beijing is striking a more global posture than Washington but the new “nice” hegemon profile is but a pose. One Harvard professor even titled his latest book (superb, other than the awful title): Destined for War.

China will stumble if it needlessly brews its own cold war rumble. Big powers advance best with little steps. This sensitive point was conveyed at Davos. Singapore’s tactful minister, Chan Chun Sing, came across as more than happy to accept China’s imaginative and ambitious New Silk Road programme as a credible potential trigger for our world economy’s “next phase of growth”. But – seemed the minister’s subtext – Beijing needs to stop scaring people in the Asian neighbourhood half out of their wits if it proposes to begin “leading from the front” with élan. Said Chan: “I can understand and I have heard theories where people are afraid, hesitant about China’s growth. But this is an important historical opportunity for China to convince the rest of the world that actually its actions have a broader perspective … The Chinese have a saying: yi de fu ren – use your benevolence to bring about a global community.”

This felicitous phrase was the one trumpeted by President Xi Jinping in his Davos speech last year. The optics of the current Chinese government plumping for an expansive internationalism contrasted brilliantly – and cleverly – with the self-centred darkness of the then newly inaugurated American president. And it still does. Back to the future – if America is prepared to go small conceptually, while blowing up militarily? Or boldly into the future goes China – yi de fu ren? That’s the daunting, haunting mystery of our era.

Loyola Marymount University Professor Tom Plate’s books on China include the recent Yo-Yo Diplomacy and In the Middle of China’s Future (with an introduction by Kishore Mahbubani)

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Red light on private cars needed in Hong Kong to curb roadside pollution

CommentInsight & Opinion

Mike Rowse says air pollution caused by the combination of traffic congestion and tall buildings has created a health crisis that can only be tackled by cracking down on the number of vehicles on the roads


It is a basic duty of governments to maintain the health and safety of their citizens to the maximum extent possible. If they can’t do that, then they don’t deserve to call themselves governments.

There are two policy areas where our government is close to failing in its duty (some would say has failed): roadside air pollution and peak-hour public transport. The issues are connected, but what is really alarming is that the problems are well documented, the solutions are well known and readily available, yet the likely outcome is that nothing will be done until it is too late. This suggests we have a fundamental problem of governance.

The subject of air pollution is broad and multifaceted. There is the cross-border aspect because of industrial activity in Guangdong province. There is a marine aspect because our busy harbour is close to the urban area. Some measures have been implemented to address these issues in recent years, though many would say too little, too late. To be fair, we should also acknowledge the greater use of cleaner fuels in power generation. Despite these modest improvements, air pollution is thought to cause five premature deaths per day in Hong Kong, and contribute to the deaths of around 20,000 Hongkongers per year.

Specifically on roadside air pollution, Hong Kong has a particular problem because of the “canyon effect”, where we have a large number of tall buildings in proximity. The major cause here is emissions from motor vehicles.

There has been explosive growth in the number of private cars during the last 10 years. We now have over 750,000 vehicles of all types on our roads, more than 540,000 of which (over 70 per cent) are private cars. Their direct contribution to roadside air pollution is modest – probably under 5 per cent. But their very presence on the road in such large numbers creates congestion. These vehicles would cause a lot less pollution if they were able to move more freely.

Which brings us to transport policy. The mainstay of our public transport system is our railway network. This is world-class and does a great job. But as anyone who uses it during peak hours will know – and I suspect this does not include our ministers – the MTR is getting dangerously overcrowded at certain times. The extensions to existing lines and construction of new ones are welcome but at key interchanges, they will bring more passengers and exacerbate the problem. At Admiralty, the situation is already dangerous, tolerable only because of the good sense and behaviour of passengers. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

To reduce the overcrowding and danger, our railway needs to be supplemented by a well-planned network of bus routes. But no matter how good the planning is, it will be to no avail if the vehicles are not moving freely. We do not need more buses on the road: we just need the ones we already have to be able to make more and faster journeys.

Here, the roadside air pollution and peak-hour transport overcrowding problems come together. We must halt the growth in the number of private cars on Hong Kong roads and then take bold steps to reduce the total. We cannot rely on fiscal means alone to achieve this as Hong Kong is a wealthy society and some people will always be prepared to stump up. That means we have to introduce a permit system.

There are various ways in which this might be done. People wishing to buy a car could be invited to bid for one of the limited number of permits to be issued each year (whether by lucky draw or highest offer is open to discussion). Existing owners of cars over a certain age, say 10 years, would also need to secure a permit before their car is relicensed. Any such scheme would be wildly unpopular with owners, but unless draconian steps are taken, the roadside air pollution and transport safety situations will deteriorate.

We cannot continue with a situation where the environment department just records how bad things are, the health department tries to treat the afflicted, while the transport department passively licenses increasing numbers of private cars which add pollution and increase congestion. That is not joined-up government and it is time we had some.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises.

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Don’t rush to judge Hong Kong justice chief Teresa Cheng over her illegal structures scandal

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Grenville Cross says other ministers have continued to serve after illegal structures were unearthed at their homes, and all the evidence must be considered before Teresa Cheng faces charges or is forced to resign

Although new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah finds herself in hot water over the illegal structures at her home and that of her husband, Oscar Poon Lok-to, some perspective is nonetheless essential. However reprehensible, illegal structures at ministers’ homes have not previously been treated as a resignation – or a prosecution – issue, and Cheng should not be treated differently.

The Buildings Ordinance (section 14) provides that building work shall not be carried out without the permission of the Building Authority, and that anyone contravening this is liable – unless the work is minor – to a fine of HK$400,000 (US$51,000) and imprisonment for two years on conviction. However, Cheng insists that the changes had already been made when she bought the property, and that there was nothing suspicious about them. If true, they must have been of a high standard, or Cheng, a qualified engineer, would presumably have realised something was amiss.

Once it becomes aware of illegal structures, the Buildings Department has a general policy to apparently issue removal orders rather than rushing to prosecution, which would probably overload the system, given the scale of the problem. Prosecution may be unavoidable if the changes are vast, as with the “underground palace” basement discovered in 2011 at the Kowloon Tong home of the former Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. Tang’s wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, who accepted responsibility for its construction, was fined HK$110,000.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has, however, concluded that Cheng’s integrity is not an issue, reflecting her previous stance on this issue.

In 2012, for example, when then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying apologised after illegal structures were discovered at his Peak home, blaming “negligence” on his part, Lam, then chief secretary, declared that his integrity was not in question. A rap over the knuckles has always sufficed for officials with illegal structures, provided they take remedial action.

While then food and health secretary Ko Wing-man apologised in 2012 for not seeking approval before merging his two penthouse flats in Kowloon Tong, Exco member (now convenor) Bernard Chan admitted that a rooftop trellis and balcony canopies at his Happy Valley home were illegal, but said they were being demolished. Then-education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung even apologised for having failed to remove an unauthorised extension at his Happy Valley home for five years, and for disregarding a demolition notice issued in 2006 by the Buildings Department, for which, bizarrely, he was responsible.

Since illegal structures are a clear problem for ministers and an embarrassment for the government, it beggars belief that the issue was not apparently canvassed when Cheng was positively vetted. Had she lied when asked about the structures, this would be an integrity issue, but there is no evidence of that.

If, however, Cheng deliberately misled the bank when signing the mortgage document in 2008, by concealing the existence of the 538 sq ft basement, this would put a very different complexion on things, but that is certainly not the only possibility. The basement may not have been revealed because it was not thought necessary, or because of an oversight, or because it did not exist at that time, and was only constructed thereafter, and the police investigation must now determine where the truth lies.

What is, however, unprecedented is that, once the Buildings Department and the police have completed their respective inquiries, newly appointed director of public prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin will have to decide on the possible criminality of his own boss, who is also the official in overall charge of public prosecutions. This will clearly place Leung in an invidious position and, yet again, the need for Hong Kong to have an independent public prosecutions department, as elsewhere, is vividly underscored. Assuming she survives her present ordeal, Cheng will hopefully have the courage to go down this path.

Cheng will, presumably, recuse herself from any involvement in the processing of her own case – and Poon’s – and the public should be assured of this. Leung will need to ensure that everything is done to demonstrate that Cheng’s case is handled appropriately, including greater transparency by the Justice Department. Outside legal advice will need to be obtained, both on the strength of the evidence and on any public interest considerations which may arise. If a decision is taken not to prosecute, the public will need a clear explanation.

In the meantime, an unseemly rush to judgment must be avoided.

Former Hong Kong secretary for development Mak Chai-kwong leaves the Court of Final Appeal in Central in January 2016. In 2012, Mak was accused of taking advantage of the

In 2012, after just 12 days in office, secretary for development Mak Chaikwong, an eminent public servant of vast experience, was hounded out after frenzied allegations that he had abused the civil service housing allowance system in the 1980s. It took him almost four painful years to clear his name, but this he did in the Court of Final Appeal in 2016, but by that time it was too late for him to resume his career.

Cheng also has formidable credentials, and it would be a travesty of justice if she were to be treated in a similar fashion. She must receive due process, and the investigations must take their course. Although the time may come when Cheng has no option but to step down, that point has not yet been reached, and it would be a great loss for Hong Kong if she departed prematurely.

Grenville Cross SC is a criminal justice analyst