Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Let’s face it: Hong Kong will never fix its illegal parking problem

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Yonden Lhatoo shares readers’ sense of despair and disgust over the city’s total inability to bite the bullet and do what it really takes to curb illegal parking

I watched a sad little circus in our Legislative Council this week. Stopping short of calling the performers a bunch of bozos, I would say they might as well have put on clown costumes and make-up to complete the picture.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum stymied the government’s long-overdue proposal to raise penalties for illegal parking by 50 per cent from next June.

It wasn’t enough for them that this is already a ridiculously benign effort to crack down on a problem that is a scourge of Hong Kong when it comes to quality of life. The plan is to raise penalties for different kinds of parking offences from HK$320 and HK$450 to HK$480 and HK$680. The amount will be commensurate with the severity of the offence, with drivers who pick up or drop off passengers in a restricted zone, for example, paying the stiffest fine.

This city hasn’t toughened its illegal parking penalties since 1994. For added context, the fine for littering is HK$1,500, and it’s a draconian HK$2,000 for jaywalking. Go figure.

In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered

Anyway, back in the big top, the argument presented by our elected representatives in favour of maintaining this ludicrous status quo was that the main reason for the problem was car ownership increasing faster than the growth of parking spaces. In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered. Yep, that ought to do it, Einstein.

Some problems in Hong Kong are just unfixable. This isn’t one of them. But it will never be fixed because of vested interests and a total lack of guts or will on the part of those in a position to do something about it.

Instead of my own commentary this time, let me quote our readers to break it down for you.

“90 per cent of Hong Kong residents don’t have cars. They are the sane ones – or the poor ones. Those with cars should have a fine of several thousand dollars for illegal parking. The fine could be reduced for delivery vehicles.

“HK$680 is what these people pay for dessert. Proportional fines would work best; with Inland Revenue already having access to your tax returns, it shouldn’t be difficult to coordinate with the police/courts over fines. They could even be automatically stacked up on top of your tax next year.”

“Make it easier for police and traffic wardens to issue tickets; give them an app with GPS and they can photo the offender, issue ticket by email. At the moment they have to handwrite in triplicate, and most appear too lazy to do so!”

If affluent Hongkongers are fearless in the face of fines, why not simply start deducting points from their driving licences? The threat of losing their right to drive ought to make these incorrigibles toe the line. Or start a vigorous culture of towing away offending vehicles to teach them a lesson.

It’s so simple, but try running that past our feeble-minded politicians and weak-willed transport authorities. And don’t forget that the police may be part of the problem, with their half-hearted enforcement.

“Traffic police simply ask the drivers to move on and all they do is drive around the block and park back in the same place as the police officers have simply walked on.”

“An offence is 24/7, 365! Not a one-week advertised crackdown. That must be the dumbest law enforcement tactic. No wonder drivers constantly break the law.”

Conclusion: it’s hopeless. I’ll just leave you with this little gem seen online that would sum up the attitude of so many Hong Kong drivers: “Somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a note on my windscreen which said, ‘Parking Fine’. That was nice …”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post


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Hong Kong’s ailing film industry can play a leading role in a hi-tech economy

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Albert Cheng says the next chief executive should focus on transforming the city into a world leader in virtual reality and a post-production hub, to boost the economy

After three weeks of electioneering to be Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has a comfortable lead ahead of her two opponents in terms of support from the small circle of 1,194 electors – despite being unpopular among ordinary Hongkongers. There is little doubt the former chief secretary will emerge as the winner on Sunday.

However, it would be difficult for her to lead a government when her credibility is low. She can secure enough votes to win, but not the hearts and minds of the people.

If elected, the first thing Lam must do is restore people’s trust. For this, she should focus her attention on one vital subject: the Hong Kong economy. I would advise her to steer public attention back to how to keep the city prosperous. How Hong Kong can ride the global wave of innovation and technology should feature prominently in her first 100 days.

When it comes to innovation and technology, people often think of fintech, start-ups, and research and development. They overlook one important opportunity here: the film industry. In her manifesto, Lam states that in the face of competition, the city “should continue to nurture talents in the film industry by providing training to those involved in film production and post-production, and provide assistance in the further development of the industry”.

This is probably one of the very few issues where I agree with her. The government should invest in the future of Hong Kong by transforming this creative and energetic city into a post-production hub and world leader in virtual reality technology.

Hong Kong has nurtured a critical mass of talent in the film industry over the years. It is a matter of how our leader can unleash this vast potential.

The policy so far has been to invest a relatively small amount of taxpayers’ money to help Hong Kong’s technology firms leap forward. Yet, the logic of a matching fund in collaboration with venture capitalists defies common sense. Once they spot a good movie script, opportunistic investors would rather pocket all the profits, rather than sharing it with the government.

Instead of fumbling around trying to pick winners, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung’s might be better to focus on assisting Hong Kong firms that are already on the right track to climb to the next level.

A scene from the 1987 movie An Autumn’s Tale. starring Chow Yun-fat and Cherie Chung. Hong Kong filmmakers used to produce up to 200 movies a year in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industry was hailed as a pillar of the local economy. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong filmmakers used to produce up to 200 movies a year in the 1980s and 1990s, when the industry was hailed as a pillar of the local economy. However, as its counterparts in Taiwan and the mainland continue to mature, Hong Kong’s creative industry has gone downhill. Virtual reality technology could be the key to help the city turn the tide.

Despite the lack of government support, local entrepreneurs have seized some of the opportunities. Actor Nicholas Tse Ting-fung is a shining example. He launched Post Production Office in 2003 to focus on post-production work for commercials and movies. He branched out in Shanghai and Beijing before selling 60 per cent of the firm to a listed company. However, its Hong Kong operations had to fold mainly because of runaway rentals and high labour costs. The is one of the many budding businesses which ended up moving away from Hong Kong.

The company has now been taken over by Digital Domain, which is chaired by Taiwanese businessman Peter Chou. It is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and can be promoted as a success story of our own. Digital Domain is based in the US, with its production studio located in Vancouver. Its special effects expertise is behind many Hollywood blockbusters, including Iron Man 3 and Transformers, to name but two. Many have asked, why Canada? Why not America? Or China? In fact, the answer lies in the local government’s aggressive incentives for investors.

By contrast, the Hong Kong government has been sitting on its hands. The flat, uninspiring ideas in the policy addresses every year are devoid of imagination. The next chief executive must take prompt action. When a good plan is not implemented, it remains at best an idea. Hong Kong can ill afford to let good ideas slip away.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.


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How innovative China is beating Facebook, Google and Amazon at their own game

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-21
Niall Ferguson says China, unlike Europe, has shown great economic and political acumen in choosing to challenge the dominance of US internet giants

Only in China could there already be a museum of internet finance. Though most Britons have barely adopted the term “fintech”, online banking is old hat in Beijing.

I toured the museum with its founder, Wang Wei, who delighted in showing me exhibits such as a bitcoin cash machine. The cryptocurrency is eight years old: in today’s China, that’s ancient enough to belong in a glass display case.

Some time soon, Europe needs a similarly designed museum of political idiocy. In its glass cases, I would like to exhibit stuffed specimens of politicians who have so hopelessly failed to understand the information technology revolution that began in California in the 1970s and has now almost completely taken over the world.

Prime candidates for the taxidermist’s knife are the members of the UK’s Commons Home Affairs Committee. They have laid into Google, Facebook and Twitter for not doing enough to censor the web on their behalf. Yvette Cooper, their chairwoman, complained that Facebook had failed to take down a page with the title “Ban Islam”. As she put it: “We need you to do more and to have more social responsibility to protect people.”

Another possible exhibit in the museum of political idiocy is Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, who unveiled a draft law last week that would impose fines of up to 50 million euros (HK$417.6 million) on social networks that failed to delete “hate speech” or “fake news”. He said: “Too little illegal content is being deleted and it’s not being deleted sufficiently quickly.”

If these people want censorship, let them get on with it, but arguing that Google and Facebook should do the censoring is nuts. As if these companies were not already mighty enough, European politicians want to give them the power to limit free expression.

Best of all is the revelation that government advertising has ended up on jihadist and white supremacist websites. The news that London’s Department for International Development and the Metropolitan police have been spending taxpayers’ money in this undiscriminating way just strikes me as more evidence of European naivety.

There are three essential points to understand about the IT revolution. First, it was almost entirely a US-based achievement, albeit with contributions from computer scientists who came to Silicon Valley from all over the world and Asian manufacturers who drove down the costs of hardware.

Most of the big breakthroughs in software that made mass personal computing possible were made in America – think Microsoft and Apple. The internet, too, was made in America. Online retail was made by Amazon, founded in 1994 in Seattle. Online search based on the PageRank algorithm: made by Google, founded in 1996, its first office a garage in Menlo Park, California. Online social networking for one and all: made by Facebook, founded in 2004 at Harvard. YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006), the iPhone (2007), Uber (2009), Snapchat (2011) – you get the idea.

A post on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page shows him running through Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in March last year. Photo: Facebook

Point two: the most important of these companies are now mind-blowingly dominant. In Facebook’s little red book for employees, it is written: “The quick shall inherit the Earth.” Mark Zuckerberg has certainly inherited quite a chunk of this planet. His social network now has 1.23 billion active daily users.

Google and Facebook are predicted to increase their combined share of all digital advertising this year to 60 per cent. Google has 78 per cent of US search advertising. Facebook has 39 per cent of online display advertising.

Third point: this dominance translates into crazy money. Facebook will make US$16 billion from display advertising this year. The business is valued today at about US$400 billion, including a US$30 billion cash pile. That equips Zuckerberg to buy up pretty much whatever comes along that he likes the look of – as he did with Instagram, for example.

It is an amazing state of affairs. Consider the functions these companies perform. Google is essentially a vast global library; it’s where we go to look things up. Amazon is a vast global bazaar, where more and more of us go to shop. And Facebook is a vast global club. The various networking functions these companies perform are not new; it’s just that technology has made the networks both enormous and very fast. The more interesting difference, however, is that in the past libraries and social clubs did not make money from advertising. They were funded out of donations or subscriptions or taxes.

In other words, the truly revolutionary fact is that our global library and our global club are both making money from advertising, and that the more we tell them about ourselves, the more effective the advertising becomes, sending us off to Jeff Bezos’ bazaar with increasing frequency.

Not for nothing is “Fang” the investors’ acronym for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These guys really have got their teeth into us.

Confronted with this American network revolution, the rest of the world had two options: capitulate or compete. The Europeans chose the former. You will look in vain for a European search engine, giant online retailer or social network. The US Fang has been well and truly sunk into the EU.

The Chinese, by contrast, opted to compete. By fair means and foul, they made life difficult for the Americans. And they encouraged their own entrepreneurs to build businesses that rival the giants of Silicon Valley. The acronym of the moment in Beijing is “Bat”: Baidu (the biggest search engine), Alibaba (Jack Ma’s answer to Amazon) and Tencent (the nearest thing to Facebook).

These companies are much more than clones of their US counterparts; each has been innovative in its own right. A good example is Tencent’s ubiquitous messaging app

WeChat, which, by using QR codes to allow users to exchange contact details, is fast destroying the business card.

Needless to say, Silicon Valley gnashes its fangs at being shut out of the vast Chinese market. Zuckerberg has not yet given up hope, doing interviews in Putonghua and even jogging through the smog of Tiananmen Square. The recent experience of Uber cannot encourage him. Last year, it ran up the white flag in China, accepting that it could not beat the homegrown ride-sharing business Didi Chuxing. Cue more gnashing.

I have to say I admire how China took on Silicon Valley and won. It was not only smart economically but smart politically, too. Beijing now has the big data it needs to keep very close tabs on Chinese netizens. And good luck to the US National Security Agency as it tries to get through the Great Firewall of China.

Museums are where history’s victors display their trophies. What I learnt last week is that China may be winning the latest battle in the IT wars: to take not just banking but money itself online.

Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford


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Hong Kong needs a realistic vision in setting its power goals

CommentInsight & Opinion
2016-09-02
John W. M. Cheng says the city must consider not only the lack of suitable land but also energy security, equity and environmental sustainability, as it works towards a low-carbon future

 

Hong Kong has, for decades, been a majestic international city, thriving and shining on the southern tip of China. Its success can be partly attributed to a world-class electricity supply system, one of the most sophisticated and reliable infrastructures in Asia, if not the world.

As global and local communities aspire and work towards a more sustainable and low-carbon future – and with a population of over 7.3 million living within only 1,105 sq km but consuming over 43 terawatt-hours of power in 2015 – what are the realistic options for Hong Kong when we look to 2030 or even 2050? Undoubtedly, our aspirations must be visionary and yet realistic.

Wind and solar technologies have improved significantly in recent years in terms of cost and performance. Solar panels on land and rooftops are surging by the millions globally. Wind turbine technologies for land-based applications have also matured. The key question is, how viable is it to build solar and/or wind facilities in Hong Kong?

Based on wind and solar resources data from US space agency Nasa, and taking into consideration today’s commercially available technologies, the percentage of land area required to displace all local generation in 2015 would be 54 per cent for solar and up to 270 per cent for wind. Alternatively, if 5 per cent of local generation is to be displaced by solar, we will need about 30 sq km (roughly 2.7 per cent of land in Hong Kong or half of Sha Tin District) of unobstructed space.

Land requirement for power generation is measured by the power density, that is, how much power can be produced in a unit area (watts per square metre or W/m2) by a given generation means. Coal-fired power is around 1,400-2,500 W/m2, gas-fired power about 5,900-14,000 W/m2 and nuclear around 1,100-3,700 W/m2. Solar and wind generation are around 4-16 W/m2.

The numbers probably speak for themselves. With such orders of magnitude of difference, if we want local generation while our land areas are scarce, we will have limited choice. This is one reason why gas-fired generation is considered a viable transitional option, as its carbon dioxide emissions are about half those of a similar coal-fired facility and yet it has a power density higher than coal.

Wind and solar generation are inherently uncertain and intermittent. To maintain a continuous and reliable system, we need the grid connection or local energy storage to back up renewable generation.

For grid connection, often taken for granted, we rely on a supply system that must be highly controllable and yet economic to maintain the power balance. Fossil-based generators are by far the most practical and affordable means unless you have many hydro plants like in Norway. Storage by means of pumped-hydro is by far the most popular and practical. However, it requires the coexistence of suitable terrain, abundant energy at times and available water resources (river or sea).

Today, battery technology for bulk storage is still expensive. According to the International Energy Agency, battery investment cost in 2015 was about US$400-US$500 per kilowatt-hour. Even if we go to 2025, the projected cost will be no less than US$200 per kWh. Innovation and major technological breakthroughs must take place to make batteries the holy grail.

But before such breakthroughs do happen, when we think of wind and solar, we must also think of the times without them. How should the backup system work to ensure continuity of service, high reliability and low cost?

Installing distributed and small-scale solar and wind facilities has also received much attention globally. Existing meters, at least in most residential units, are traditional electromechanical devices with simple capabilities. If widespread installation of solar (or wind) facilities takes place, smart meters with the necessary intelligence would be needed to accommodate the feed-in tariff, which will pay for renewable energy at a higher price.

Some may argue that financial support for feed-in tariffs can come from existing “energy subsidies”. While the energy sector in Hong Kong in general does not receive direct financial transfers or preferential tax treatment, we have yet to understand whether such subsidies really exist in Hong Kong or are calculated fairly. More importantly, we must carefully study what should be a fair feed-in tariff and how often we should revise it; what should be a fair rate of grid connection; and, how building codes should be amended to incorporate more solar rooftops.

The UN-accredited World Energy Council defines a sustainable energy system as one that considers three core dimensions simultaneously: energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. These goals constitute a “trilemma” and one must strike a balance among these three goals to ensure a sustainable energy future.

Each year, the council publishes an Energy Trilemma Index report and Hong Kong has always ranked quite high – it was in the top 30 among 130 jurisdictions rated in 2015. We are also within the top five in the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, Hong Kong was ranked eighth globally in terms of energy equity, meaning that we are not only maintaining a good balance in the overall trilemma assessment, but we also excel in making energy affordable and accessible to our citizens.

A wind farm alongside a highway in Turpan, in the Xinjiang region. In drawing up its energy road map, Hong Kong needs to take into account the future direction of the mainland. Photo: AFP

Energy is a unique industry and is fundamental to the very fabric of society. Our history, culture, available resources, economic strength, technological know-how and social needs are also unique in Hong Kong. We must ensure all stakeholders are reasonably aware of the impact and implications of any policy changes and subsequent developments.

Therefore, our energy vision, road map and targets should also be designed and implemented to strike a balance among the trilemma, considering past global experiences and the future direction of the Chinese mainland.

Dr John W. M. Cheng is general secretary of the World Energy Council – Hong Kong, China, and CLP Research Institute’s senior manager


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Hong Kong has a stake in the birth of a Greater Bay Area in China’s south

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-09
Sonny Lo says Beijing’s commitment to foster regional integration in southern China is clear. With plans already afoot, it’s up to Hong Kong to play its role well, alongside Guangdong and Macau

The most important Hong Kong-related part of Premier Li Keqiang’s ( 李克強 ) annual work report delivered at the National People’s Congress last Sunday is arguably the idea of a Greater Bay Area for Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau.

A day after he spoke about it, Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui (馬興瑞) expressed hope that the Dawan area (literally, “big bay area”) should not only be comparable to New York, Los Angeles and other coastal economies, but also have a way of coordinating regional differences in tax systems and transport networks.

Echoing Ma, the Guangdong Development and Reform Commission director He Ningka (何寧卡) called for a concrete blueprint for deeper integration, which would involve strengthening infrastructure networks to enhance interaction and spur innovation; consolidating trade relations to support“One Belt, One Road”; and creating high-quality, environmentally friendly cities where people live and work.

The idea of a Greater Bay Area is not new. The mainland government has, in recent years, sought the deeper integration of Hong Kong and Macau into southern China. In the nation’s 12th five-year plan, for example, the government urged the two cities to promote coordinated growth and “develop a world-class metropolitan cluster”.

Most recently in the 13th five-year plan, unveiled last year, Hong Kong was designated a global offshore renminbi business hub, and expected to further promote its professional and financial services. The main idea is to make it a regional hub by not only strengthening its cooperation with the development areas of Qianhai, Nansha and Hengqin on the mainland, but also playing a more active role in Beijing’s belt and road initiative.

For now, while Hong Kong is fostering deeper integration with Shenzhen’s Qianhai, Macau is doing the same with regard to Hengqin. The recent agreement by Hong Kong and Shenzhen to develop the Lok Ma Chau Loop into an innovation and technology park represents genuine efforts at deeper integration.

The entire thrust of the integration blueprint reflects China’s development strategy for its south. Guangdong is expected to be the locomotive for the region. The fact that a 2009 cooperative outline for the Pearl River Delta area, in one early mention of regional integration, came from a Guangdong think tank was illustrative of the province’s leadership role.

Similarly, the remarks made by governor Ma immediately after Premier Li’s report indicated Guangdong’s pivotal role in the central government’s planning strategy.

To stay competitive, Hong Kong and Macau must reposition themselves to adapt to Beijing’s plan.

First, they should review their population and education policies to welcome mainland talent and high-quality immigrants, as well as nurture more scientists and technology experts.

Both cities should also build on their strengths – Hong Kong as a monetary and financial hub, and Macau as a diversified tourism hub. Macau’s recent moves to diversify its economy – away from the casino business towards theme parks and golf resort development in neighbouring Henqin – is illustrative of Beijing’s planning. Macau is expected to play a crucial bridge between China and other Portuguese-speaking countries, just as Hong Kong should utilise its common-law heritage to expand its connections with many other countries in the world.

The two special administrative regions are endowed with sound legal systems and strong rule of law, which will enable both to remain competitive in the coming years. But Hong Kong and Macau must train more local people to better understand mainland China, including in the areas of history, law, politics, economy, education and cultural values.

In the face of these developments, the “one country, two systems” framework is likely to develop into a new system in Hong Kong by 2047 and in Macau by 2049, when a new region of economic integration is likely to be formed.

Sonny Lo is a political commentator