Generation 40s – 四十世代

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In Hong Kong, animosity towards mainland Chinese can’t be overcome without an open mind

CommentInsight & Opinion
Peter Kammerer says the fear of mainlandisation, though understandable, unfortunately stops Hongkongers from getting to better understand the mainland Chinese who come for work or a holiday. The continuing spats show not enough Hongkongers are making the effort

How many more times are we going to be pummelled by yet another sorry tale of Hongkongers and mainlanders sniping at one another? To add to the long and sorry list of recent years, in the past week, we’ve had a row over Mandarin language exams at Baptist University and a food fight in a noodle shop at the airport. I also witnessed an argument on a bus and jostling on a street in Causeway Bay.

None of these would have happened had those involved treated each other as equals and taken the time to talk rather than shout.

The Baptist University saga is complex, but at its heart is that same old concern about the creeping mainlandisation of Hong Kong. There are fewer layers to the noodle shop incident, which involved staff losing their cool with two mainland travellers. Both matters quickly found their way onto social media platforms, where the usual mud-slinging ensued. The latter has been settled with an apology from the shop, but the former rumbles on.

Hongkongers feel threatened; I get that. I understand how nationalism is created and manipulated so that the mere suggestion of words like “independence” can have sycophants howling. But there’s also another truth, best illustrated by an observation; two decades ago, people on the mainland complained that Hong Kong visitors were noisy and arrogant, and now the reverse is true. As an outsider to the dispute, I don’t perceive either side is worse and the only significant change is that Hong Kong now gets many times more mainland visitors.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about the same ethnic group and their biggest differences are the dialect they speak and, marginally, the manner in which they’re governed. Culturally, there’s no difference, with both celebrating the moon, with festivals featuring mooncakes and red packets containing money. Not liking the manner in which a person or political party governs can never be a reason to also dislike the people who are subject to such a system. I think United States President Donald Trump is a buffoon, but I would be foolish to suggest all Americans are also clowns.

There’s bound to be indignation when shopping and leisure habits are disrupted by a tourist influx. But Hong Kong has had plenty of time to adjust to that. We should also have had every opportunity to get to better know and understand our visitors. Unfortunately, it’s obvious from the continuing animosity that not enough have tried.

From my perch as a Caucasian with no vested interests, the vast majority of my interactions with mainlanders in Hong Kong have been positive. There have been curious university students, helpful work colleagues, pedestrians in need of guidance and chatty gym-goers and diners in restaurants. The negatives most often relate to being buffeted in the street by a suitcase-wheeling parade or an inconsiderate smoker.

Hong Kong likes to call itself an international city, but the numerous ethnic groups and nationalities who make it so multicultural tend to group together and rarely cross paths. Apart from cross-border marriages, this is also largely true for Hongkongers and mainlanders.

Here’s some common sense: you won’t get to know someone if you intentionally avoid them. If, in an encounter, we are rude and demeaning, expect the same treatment back. And here’s a truth: taking the time to start a conversation with a stranger from the mainland by talking about how the trip is going, if it’s for shopping or business, or even if the weather is meeting expectations, will make a world of difference, with the result bound to be positive.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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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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How Europe is working to solve the plastic waste problem – and Hong Kong can, too

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Carmen Cano

Carmen Cano outlines a new EU strategy involving making recycling profitable, limiting use of non-recyclable plastics, stopping littering at sea and promoting R&D, to keep plastics out of our waters and bodies

Every year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30 per cent is collected for recycling. Microplastics are now found in our lungs, air and dinner tables, and damage our health without us even noticing. We need to address this and that is the objective of the new European Union Plastics Strategy.

The strategy on plastics is part of the EU’s transition towards a more circular economy. It will transform the way products are designed, produced, used and recycled in the EU. Now plastics are produced, used and discarded without the economic benefits of a circular approach. This mistake harms the environment. Our goal is to protect the environment while laying the foundations of a new plastic economy that promotes economic growth. This can be achieved by fully integrating the need to reuse, repair and recycle throughout the entire life cycle of products. At the same time, we will continue to develop more environmentally friendly materials. Europe is best placed to lead this transition.

By taking the lead, we will turn a threat into an economic and health benefit, while creating new investment opportunities and jobs. Under the plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and intentional use of microplastics restricted. To ensure the strategy is effective and yields the best results, the EU will measure progress and adapt its policies where needed.

What does the strategy mean in practice? First, make recycling profitable for business through new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics and increasing the demand for recycled plastic, along with new recycling facilities and a standardised system for the collection and sorting of waste across the EU. This will create a more competitive, resilient plastics industry.

Second, curb plastic waste. Standards in Europe have reduced plastics use significantly. The new proposal focuses on single-use plastics and fishing gear, measures limiting microplastics use, and labels identifying biodegradable, compostable plastics.

Third, stop littering at sea. New measures will ensure that waste generated on ships is not left at sea but returned to land and disposed of adequately. It will also reduce the administrative burden on ports, ships and competent authorities.

Fourth, drive investment and innovation with guidance for national authorities and European businesses to minimise plastic waste, with 100 million euros (HK$956 million) more in support for R&D for smarter and more recyclable plastics.

Get on board the battle to stop plastic polluting the oceans

The EU strategy is not only relevant for Europeans. Last September, the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau held a beach cleaning with more than 100 volunteers at Rocky Bay beach. In less than two hours, more than 900kg of waste was removed, the large majority of it plastic. The world faces an emergency. If we do not change how we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050. We must keep plastics out of our water, food and bodies. The only long-term solution is to reduce plastic waste by recycling and reusing more. This is a challenge citizens, industry and governments around the world must tackle together. We hope the guidelines, available online, will be useful to others as well.

The EU will do its part but cannot, and should not, do it alone. Everyone must join in to make the waters clean, the air breathable and the environment safe again. Hong Kong can be a part of the solution and reap the benefits. The EU and its member states are ready to work together with Hong Kong on its plastic and environmental policies.

Ambassador Carmen Cano is head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau