Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong education reform continues, but Beijing’s role presents new challenges

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-02-05

Katherine Forestier

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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
2018-01-19

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


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The rise and fall of Canto-pop and, with it, Hong Kong’s cultural identity

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-06

Vivienne Chow says the Ultimate Song Chart Awards reminded her of how Canto-pop once brought a thriving Hong Kong together. But, with its glory days long gone, she wonders if the uniquely Hong Kong genre can once again find that power to unite

 

On the first day of 2018, Hongkongers were delightfully surprised by Nicholas Tse Ting-fung’s appearance at the 30th annual Commercial ­Radio music awards show. Dressed in a black top and armed with an electric guitar, Tse joined local bands Supper Moment and Chochukmo on stage as a guest performer, driving the crowd wild, singing Jade Butterfly and Living Viva, two of his most memorable hits from the early 2000s, and a brand new Canto-pop song, (I) Have Fire. The last time he ­released a Cantonese full length album was in 2005.

It’s been a long time since any of the year-end music awards shows was the talk of the town. Not only were those watching Commercial Radio’s Ultimate Song Chart Awards presentation at the Convention and Exhibition Centre enjoying themselves, many who had long given up watching such awards shows found themselves tuning into the mini showcase online. The video clip appearing across various media platforms, including the official account of Commercial Radio and popular entertainment gossip page King Jer Entertainment Channel, has ­already garnered nearly a million views.

Adding to the Canto-pop memories of the night was Eason Chan Yik-shun’s performance of his old favourites and Hacken Lee Hak-han, a veteran of 30 years, bagging the gold male singer award for the first time. It was a nostalgic kick-start to the new year.

The return of Tse to the Canto-pop stage was ­unexpected, largely because, like many established Hong Kong stars, he shifted his focus to mainland China many years ago. Long gone was his Canto-pop bad boy image, as Tse reinvented himself as a successful entrepreneur and the most talked about TV chef. The glory days of Canto-pop seem to be the past life of not only Tse, but of Hong Kong as well.

Canto-pop is an integral part of Hong Kong’s cultural identity. It all started in the mid-1970s when Sam Hui Koon-kit began singing pop in Cantonese. It was a time when most people were still playing pop music in English. Hui’s songs were like a fresh breeze that stirred the souls of many Hongkongers whose mother tongue was Cantonese. This coincided with Hong Kong’s growing economic prosperity and rising public demand for leisure and entertainment.

The intense rivalry among TVB, Rediffusion Television (which became ATV in the 80s) and the short-lived Commercial Television set the stage for the Canto-pop boom. Not only did they produce a number of hit TV series that captured the hearts of an audience seeking emotional refuge after a long day at work, the Cantonese theme songs of these TV series gained wild popularity, particularly title songs from wuxia martial arts epics, such as those adapted from Louis Cha Leung-yung’s novels.

Along with the kung fu cinema made popular by Bruce Lee in the early 70s, it was the beginning of the golden era of Hong Kong, which produced a unique brand of pop culture that was not borrowed from the West – an array of songs, TV shows and movies that made Hongkongers proud.

Records of theme songs for TV Series adapted from the novels of Jin Yong (the pen name of Louis Cha), are displayed at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, last March. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The rise of Canto-pop led to the launch of annual music awards shows in the 80s. TVB, Commercial Radio and public broadcaster RTHK each produced its own year-end shows, joined later by Metro Radio. These shows have played a vital role in promoting not only the music industry but also the melodies and sentiments that Hong Kong people identify with.

Canto-pop brought Hongkongers together. During the heyday of the local music industry in the 1980s and 90s, watching live broadcasts of the year-end awards shows was a must. Those were the only occasions when not just fans but also general TV viewers had the chance to experience the live performances of the biggest and brightest stars, from the comfort of their homes.

The awards could easily cause heated debates among friends and family: arguments over whether Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing would be able to beat Alan Tam Wing-lun in the best male singer category could trigger a war of words among siblings at the dinner table in the 80s. And in the 90s, arguments over who was the best of the “Four Heavenly Kings” – Jacky Cheung How-yau, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Leon Lai Ming and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing – could easily end a friendship. But no matter who was most popular at the time, people could sing along to most of the hits.

As the top stars retired from these music awards shows, a younger generation of Canto-pop stars, like Eason Chan Yik-shun, Miriam Yeung Chin-wah, Nicholas Tse and Joey Yung Cho-yee in the 2000s, was given the ­opportunity to shine. The dramatic rivalries were gone but the music awards shows still managed to capture many people’s attention.

Fans of late Canto-pop diva Anita Mui Yim-fong attend her memorial concert, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in December 2013. Photo: Felix Wong

But all of that is now history: Canto-pop is struggling. In 2008, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group), the ­industry association, slashed requirements for ­album sales awards, from the original benchmark of 25,000 for gold and 50,000 for platinum – down to 15,000 for gold and 30,000 for platinum.

Top-selling Canto-pop singers and albums of the past 20 years.

Source: Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award/SCMP

There is also a serious lack of new Canto-pop ­forces with the power to bring people together. While many of the established stars have either retired or shifted their focus to mainland China, appearing in reality shows such as I Am A Singer, the decline of ­traditional media and the rise of digital media, particularly the algorithm-based social media, has fragmented the audience base.

Even political groups have trouble finding new songs that can unite people at protests

The gap between reality and what is perceived as reality has never been so wide. Some traditional Chinese entertainment media expressed bewilderment at the result of the “favourite song of the year” category at the Ultimate Song Chart Awards, which went to local band ToNick’s Cheung Seung See Sau (“Stay Together Forever”), a song they claimed many had never heard of. But, in reality, the music video has had nearly 7.7 million views on YouTube, more than most other songs from 2017.

The truth is that Hong Kong is still living in the past. Even political groups have trouble finding new songs that can unite people at protests: the song that was sung probably the most at protests over the past five years was Beyond’s Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies, and that was released in 1993.

Over two decades on from the handover, the rise and fall of Canto-pop mirrors Hong Kong’s struggles with its cultural identity. And as long as Hong Kong is still caught up in its internal battles, the chance of getting people to sing along together to new Canto-pop tunes seems to be slim.

Vivienne Chow is a journalist, cultural critic and founder of Cultural Journalism Campus


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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