Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why Hong Kong’s property market won’t crash – this time

CommentInsight & Opinion
Andy Xie says although Hong Kong’s fragile economy remains unhealthily dependent on the property sector, the asset bubble today is unlikely to burst, as happened after the handover. Stagnation is the bigger worry


Property is at the centre of everything in Hong Kong today, much like it was 20 years ago on the eve of the handover. Soon after the handover, prices collapsed, hitting rock bottom in the spring of 2003. They have since clawed their way back up, and some. With the 20th anniversary of the handover now upon us, will history repeat itself?

The similarities between now and then are only skin deep. In 1997, Hongkongers were extremely optimistic about the future. Foreigners agreed. The mantra was that China was set for explosive growth, Hong Kong, being China’s window, would be the conduit for all the money flowing to the mainland, and Hong Kong property would rise and rise on that money. Most bubbles occur because people got carried away. Hong Kong in 1997 fell into that category.

When the Thai baht collapsed, it exposed the problems in the East Asian boom. When foreign money pulled out, the Hong Kong property market collapsed. It showed that hot money was the driver for Hong Kong’s property market, not growth.

The collapse of the bubble exposed a greater challenge facing Hong Kong’s economy. The city prospered on China being closed. Arbitraging on China’s inefficiencies was the foundation of Hong Kong’s prosperity – being in Hong Kong offered a seat on the gravy train. The Hong Kong government taxed the privilege through high property prices to fund itself.

But, after China joined the World Trade Organisation, the gravy train was derailed.

Hong Kong has never faced up to this competitive challenge. For years, mainland tourism kept the retail sector afloat. But, is the future for Hong Kong youth to be shopkeepers?

Meanwhile, investment immigration juiced up the property market. It turned a whole generation of youth into property agents harassing pedestrians in the posh shopping districts. The latest financial boom is very much driven by grey income fleeing China. After 20 years, Hong Kong’s economy hasn’t built a lasting foundation.

This economic fragility is reflected in the popular pessimism today, in contrast to the widespread optimism two decades ago. Why, then, is there a property bubble now?

Three forces have been at work.

First, after the property collapse in the late 1990s, the city’s ruling class shrank supply to prop up prices. The initial plan to launch 85,000 public flats, a key component of Tung Chee-hwa’s housing programme, was abolished. Minimum prices were assigned to subsequent land auctions, cutting supply in a low-price environment. Even the land marked for public housing was later sold to private developers. When incomes are not rising, cutting supply can increase prices.

Second, after the 2008 property collapse in the US, the Fed cut interest rates to zero and kept them there for a long time. With an exchange rate pegged to the US dollar, Hong Kong has the same interest rate, and debt demand increased accordingly. Household debt has increased to 70 per cent of gross domestic product from the previous peak of 50 per cent in 1997. The debt, of course, has piled into the property market.

Lastly, China saw a massive increase in corruption in the decade after 2002. The grey income flooded into Hong Kong, much of it enabling cash purchases of properties. The flood of mainland money, in addition to juicing up property demand, has kept Hong Kong’s interest rates even lower than America’s.

However, all three forces are now reversing. Housing supply is likely to increase substantially in the coming years. Though still low relative to the population, the increase will have a big impact, because the prices are so high relative to income. US interest rates are going up. And, China’s crackdown on corruption will last for years to come.

Hong Kong’s property market is likely to behave like Japan’s in the past two decades, not like it did itself two decades ago. The US economy is not as strong today as it was then, and US interest rates may peak at 3 per cent this time, not like the 6 per cent then. Besides, China is much bigger now and will surely intervene if the market collapses like in 1998.

After its property bubble burst in 1992, Japan’s banks didn’t foreclose on their delinquent borrowers. That prevented the snowball effect in a bubble collapse. However, while such a response would save the economy the pain of a 1998-style collapse, the slow adjustment would trap the economy in stagnation, because capital could not be relocated into new productive areas from the bubble economy.

Hong Kong has been trapped in a property curse, which could last another two decades, diverting its attention from the main challenge of meeting the competition from millions of graduates from across the border joining the workforce each year.

Two decades ago, for a similar job, a Hong Kong salary was 20 times that on the mainland. Now it is three times. How long can Hong Kong justify the differential? It is already less competitive in education and infrastructure than tier-one mainland cities. The gap will only widen. Unless big changes are made, salaries in Hong Kong will not rise and may even decline.

Andy Xie is an independent economist

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Inside the AI revolution that’s reshaping Chinese society

Artificial intelligence, once a novelty, is now being applied in everyday life. From academia to business, government and the military, ambitious China is betting big on AI, raising US suspicions yet offering opportunities for collaboration

Seven-year-old Chen Jiahao has a problem sum he can’t solve and he can’t wait to get home from school to pose the question to his all-knowing maths tutor.

His tutor is amazing, the boy says. Just snap a photograph of the question and the tutor will provide every possible approach to solve the problem, step by step – all in a split second.

Jiahao’s tutor is inside his mother’s smartphone. It is, in fact, an app that draws on artificial intelligence (AI) technology to solve challenging maths problems for primary school children.

And it’s just one of many AI-enabled apps Jiahao uses daily on his mother’s phone. When the boy started primary school in Beijing, his teachers recommended that his parents install the apps on their phones. The software give out school assignments, grade pupils’ work and even generate unique sets of exercises for each child based on their areas of weakness.

“Jiahao likes his AI teachers,” said his mother, Yu Ting, adding that her son spends at least two hours on the AI apps every day. “He greets my phone as eagerly as he greets me.”

AI society

Jiahao’s story shows how AI is shaping modern Chinese society as the technology shifts slowly but surely from the realm of mere novelty towards common, everyday application.

On Chinese social media, video-sharing platforms and shopping sites, AI technology is already widely used to cater specifically to individual tastes and preferences.

For example, online news aggregator Toutiao provides a selection of articles tailored for its users based on information such as their age, gender and location. Video-streaming website iQiyi recommends programmes based on users’ search and viewing history.

Ali Xiaomi, the AI-powered customer service chatbot of tech giant Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, can reply to a million text queries and takes thousands of phone calls from online shoppers every day. The use of AI has cut e-shops’ customer service costs by 90 per cent, according to Alibaba.

That’s not all. An AI traffic controller introduced on trial in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province last year eased vehicle flow on roads, allowing cars to pass at speeds of up to 11 per cent faster than usual, state-owned broadcaster China Radio International reported.

A missing man from Fujian province was reunited with his parents thanks to AI analysis of facial recognition data. Photo: Handout

In April, search giant Baidu’s AI system reunited a couple in Chongqing with their long-lost son. The machine analysed a photograph of the six-year-old boy, who went missing 27 years ago, and matched it to the face of a 33-year-old man in Fujian province, the Beijing Evening News reported. DNA tests confirmed the match.

What, exactly, is AI?

Popular culture, especially in the West, often either romanticises the notion of artificial intelligence – such as in the 2013 Hollywood film Her, in which a lonely man falls for his “female” AI operating system – or portrays it negatively, as in the hit US television series Westworld, where oppressed androids in an AI theme park turn murderous against their abusive human guests.

In reality, AI technology – at least in its current stage – is both less romantic and frightening, but its possibilities may be every bit as boundless as imagined in the movies.

AI refers to a computer software that mimics intelligent human behaviour. Creating such intelligent systems requires teaching machines to learn for themselves – an application of AI known as machine learning – rather than manually teaching them everything there is to know.

Machine learning involves feeding computer systems with large volumes of data and programming the systems to interpret the information for themselves through pattern recognition. The machines hence “learn” by calculating probabilities and drawing conclusions from patterns found in the data at its disposal.

A powerful form of machine learning is deep learning, which categorises information according to hierarchical layers of concepts. The arrangement allows systems to interpret complex data with greater flexibility, speed and accuracy.

“AI is like a child,” said Professor Feng Jufu, a machine learning scientist at Peking University’s school of electronics engineering and computer science. “The more people use it, the faster it learns. The more it learns, the faster it improves.”

United States’ rising rival

China, whose population of 1.38 billion people makes it the world’s biggest user base and data pool, is a “paradise” for machine learning technology, Feng said.

And the nation – from its computer scientists, tech businesses, the government and military – is exercising its competitive advantage.

For decades, AI initiatives have been launched and developed in the United States and the field dominated by American experts. But now, the balance appears to be tipping as China’s AI technology comes up neck and neck with that of the US.

There was no clearer demonstration of this shift than what occurred at the annual meeting of the world’s biggest AI research community this year.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence rescheduled its yearly event in New Orleans, originally set in January, to the following month after finding out that the dates conflicted with China’s Lunar New Year holiday, The Atlantic magazine reported.

“Our organisation had to almost turn on a dime and change the conference venue to hold it a week later,” the association’s president Subbarao Kambhampati was quoted as saying.

The clash might not have mattered in the past, but with Chinese scientists now producing more research papers on deep learning than Americans, the meeting would have been pointless if the Chinese could not attend, according to the association.

An artificial intelligence backed by face recognition function which can used in mobile payment is demonstrated in Wuhen on Nov. 16, 2016. Photo: Simon Song

“The race is tight,” said Li Xiaowei, executive director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ State Key Laboratory of Computer Architecture in Beijing. China has only one main competitor – the US – and its goal was to beat its rival on the other side of the Pacific, he added.

Li said he and colleagues were developing computer chips, built specifically for machine learning, that would significantly boost the speed of an AI system, running “as fast as a car against a bicycle” compared with existing AI machines on traditional CPUs.

Chinese researchers have already developed AI chips with faster performance on specific tasks such as image recognition and natural language processing, but they still consumed more energy and tended to be less reliable than American-made chips, Li admitted.

Chinese ambitions

While US experts are still making most of the fundamental AI breakthroughs, this may soon change as Chinese tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, with access to the vast amounts of data needed for AI training through their millions of customers, inject massive investment into the technology, setting up their own AI research laboratories to create new products at a speed and scale never before seen in the West.

China was the world’s second biggest investor in AI enterprises last year, injecting US$2.6 billion into the sector, according to Chinese think tank the Wuzhen Institute. The US topped the list with US$17.9 billion.

Smaller firms aren’t passing up the chance to make a foray into AI either. This month, AI robots owned by two Chinese education-tech companies sat the maths section of the nation’s notoriously difficult college examinations.

Press gathered in Chengdu earlier this month as a robot sat the maths test for the national college entrance exam. Photo: Xinhua

One, which took the test in an isolated room at a technology park in Chengdu in Sichuan province, scored 70 per cent, spending about 20 minutes completing the questions. The other, which sat the test in Beijing and was connected to the internet, scored 90 per cent in less than 10 minutes. The second bot’s score was good enough to gain admission into China’s top universities.

“Artificial intelligence has undergone several waves of hype over the past decades, but this time it’s different. This time, it may really come alive,” said Feng, the Peking University academic.

Over in the public sector, the Chinese government has pinpointed AI as a key area for advancement in its latest five-year plan. Top technology official Wan Gang said in March a national development plan was being drafted that would see AI technology adopted in areas including “the economy, social welfare, environmental protection and national security”.

Last year, the Chinese government said it would create an AI market worth more than US$15 billion by 2018. Beijing has already sunk millions into studying AI in universities and research institutes around the nation. It is also already applying the technology across the full spectrum of governance.

Traffic authorities in the city of Jiaxing in Zhejiang province this month began using an AI coach in a driving school. The system monitors students’ driving behaviour and detects mistakes they make, instructing them through a speaker and rating their performance, the Jiaxing Daily reported. The passing rate of students who learned with the AI coach was 20 per cent higher than those who had human coaches.

Over in China’s most innovative city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, the use of a tiny chip in public surveillance cameras has helped police crack hundreds of cases and find several lost children. The intelligent chip whittles down the speed of human facial recognition to just a few seconds.

And in Jiangsu province’s city of Nantong, an AI judge will be put into use later this year to organise and analyse legal documents and material as well as perform paper work to lighten the workload for human judges. The system is expected to speed up the handling of legal cases by 30 per cent, the Nantong Daily reported.

US suspicions (and collaboration)

China has also ventured into AI on the military front. The nation is developing cruise missiles with “a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation”, the China Daily quoted a senior missile designer as saying last August.

As the country’s AI capabilities grow, so have US suspicions. The Pentagon had concerns about Beijing’s access to US-developed AI technology, the Reuters news agency reported this month.

Citing a leaked document, the report said the US defence department recommended blocking Chinese organisations from investing in some American start-ups working on cutting-edge technologies. The report suggested Washington fears that its advanced algorithms might be re-purposed for Chinese military use.

Individual Chinese AI researchers might also have become a concern for the US government, according to Zhang Lijun, an associate professor of computer science with Nanjing University’s learning and mining from data group in Jiangsu province.

“Each time we go to the US for an academic conference, we encounter extensive background checks by the US embassy,” Zhang said. But if the US stopped issuing visas to Chinese AI scientists, the move would do as much damage to America as it would to China, he added.

Despite Washington’s concerns, American companies are still flocking to join hands with their Chinese counterparts in AI research given the sheer amount of funds injected into the industry. And the collaborations have seen considerable progress in the field.

In May, Google’s AlphaGo AI programme – developed to play the Chinese board game Go – defeated world champion Ke Jie in a series of three matches, all of which the machine won.

The strategy game, played on a 19×19 grid board with more permutations than the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe, was previously believed too sophisticated for the machine to handle. Scientists had predicted AI would take at least a decade to decisively conquer the game; the final match took less than four hours.

The same month, Microsoft’s Chinese-language chatbot Xiaoice published the world’s first collection of AI-authored poems in a book titled The Sunlight That Lost The Glass Window. The book caused a stir among China’s literary circle, with some poets hoping the technology would revive appreciation of the art. Pirated copies have already appeared on Chinese websites, reflecting interest in the book.

“The US is good at coming up with new ideas in fundamental research while China is good at implementing these ideas in applications. International collaboration has played a key role in the rapid development of AI technology in recent years,” Zhang at Nanjing University said.

The future

All these advancements are just the beginning of an AI revolution, according to the Peking University academic Feng.

“The only limit is your imagination,” he said, adding that AI technology could have even broader and deeper applications in people’s lives.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ expert Li concurred. The AI user experience of the future would be vastly different from today, as with software and hardware upgrades newer AI machines would become far faster and more human-like.

The collection of AI written poems, The Sunlight That Lost The Glass Window. Photo: Handout

For instance, Feng said, today’s exam taking robot could be developed into an exam-setting machine. Like AlphaGo considered permutations never conceived by human players in the past, the AI system could pose students challenging questions that would push them to achieve results beyond what they thought possible.

“If you can answer maths questions designed by machines, you should then be able to easily tackle questions designed by humans,” he said.

But Professor Li Qingan, an educational psychologist at Beijing Normal University, cautioned against the unregulated use of AI in schools.

“Artificial intelligence may create super students, but it can also turn them into cold-blooded creatures with little care for how others think and feel,” Li said. “Thirty years from now, we may regret giving our children over to AI.”

There is also a limit to AI systems, according to professor Huang Biqing, a robotics scientist with Tsinghua University.

“If human-generated data can no longer improve an AI system’s performance, the machine will treat it as noise,” Huang said, adding that this meant the system would regard human input as no longer necessary and could evolve based on its own machine-generated data.

Chen Yi, the father of Jiahao the primary schoolboy who loves his AI tutors, recalls his childhood addiction to Nintendo’s Game Boy as he observes his son interacting with the apps on his wife’s smartphone.

“This is different from my childhood addiction,” Chen said, referring to Jiahao’s attachment to the AI-enabled programmes. “Jiahao’s condition is more like, I don’t know, a kind of dependence?”

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How Hong Kong’s Basic Law can serve the interests of all China

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Simon Young
Simon Young says a narrow view of the Basic Law is partly to blame for the ‘one country’ versus ‘two systems’ deadlock in Hong Kong. It’s time to widen the perspective to see what the SAR can offer the country

Looking at the Basic Law from different perspectives may yield different results. For the past 20 years, most people, including myself, have understood the Basic Law to be a legal instrument intended to continue and preserve Hong Kong’s way of life for at least 50 years under Chinese sovereignty. I call this the internal perspective, which looks at how the Basic Law serves the interests of Hong Kong and Hong Kong people.

However, the internal perspective has proven to be divisive, one that sees continuous tension and conflict between the “one country” and the “two systems”. The conflict is well known, if not tiresome. One sees it in recent speeches on the success or failure of the Basic Law.

The side trumpeting the “one country” hails the Basic Law’s first 20 years, pointing to Beijing’s restraint and the many ways in which Hong Kong has been allowed to prosper. To this group, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has made “only” five interpretations of the Basic Law, each measured and made for good reasons. Those calling for independence or self-determination are regarded as ungrateful, spoiled, and soon to be, if not already are, enemies of the state unless stronger measures are taken.

Those trumpeting the “two systems” highlight the “high degree” of autonomy promised to Hong Kong in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. To them, one Standing Committee interpretation is one too many, and the five we have had have seriously damaged common law judicial independence. What is there to celebrate when press freedom has been deteriorating, Chinese mainland authorities have increasingly encroached on Hong Kong’s autonomy, and the local government has been unable to defend Hong Kong’s interests. The government’s “hardline approach” is to blame for the failure of “one country, two systems”, and independence talk is but a natural consequence of the political reform void.

As the internal perspective looks mainly to the interests and continuity of Hong Kong, there is little room to consider Hong Kong-mainland relations. The two sides are single entities unable to have a constructive dialogue on constitutional development. During the 2014 universal suffrage debacle, the central government’s Standing Committee decision was a top-down monologue, while local protesters’ provocative means drowned out their message and those of others.

In this internal perspective, Hong Kong remains a “borrowed place on borrowed time”, with 2047 standing in the place of 1997.

The two sides have divergent ideas on how to resolve the conflict. The “one country” camp would invest in a kind of brainwashing, and recommend for the incorrigible, first, elimination from the political system, then incarceration. For the autonomy camp, there are different responses: protest, obstruct, disobey, veto and exit. While those in the autonomy camp await a new president, those in the other camp await 2047.

In contrast to the dismal internal perspective, there is another perspective of the Basic Law rarely mentioned. The external perspective sees the Basic Law as serving national interests and the nation’s interests in the global community.

This is not the same as the “one country” camp’s internal perspective of the Basic Law. The words “belt” and “road” do not appear in the Basic Law. Hong Kong is not compared with other parts of China. It is a distinct society with an unrealised potential to furthering national interests. The external perspective sees Hong Kong and Hong Kong people having a greater role in matters of state, as contemplated by Article 21 of the Basic Law. This goes beyond having local deputies in the NPC and ex-chief executives become vice-chairmen of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The external perspective recognises the contribution that Hong Kong already makes to China’s international standing.

The autonomy camp does not see the external perspective, or they see it as irrelevant, as they continue to fight micro battles with the “one country” camp and the Hong Kong or mainland governments. Some do not see the nation at all, whether because they are legally barred from entering the mainland or figuratively because of pro-independence thinking.

The vision in the external perspective remains largely unfulfilled because there are few opportunities for Hong Kong people to participate in the management of state affairs. It is doubtful that the central government trusts Hong Kong people with such responsibilities. Take the example of having mainland officials in Hong Kong in a co-location arrangement for boundary checks for the mainland-Hong Kong express rail link. It is likely to be one of the most challenging problems facing the new administration. There is, however, a solution to the problem in Article 20 of the Basic Law, which provides that Hong Kong may “enjoy other powers granted to it” by the mainland authorities.

Why not grant Hong Kong officials the power to conduct boundary checks on behalf of the mainland? A select group of Hong Kong officers could be specially trained by mainland officers and sworn to secrecy on the intelligence obtained from the mainland security network. Hong Kong would maintain its autonomy while contributing to a matter of national importance.

While the precise arrangements have yet to be announced, it seems highly unlikely the mainland government would entrust Hong Kong with such powers.

In State Council white papers and the speeches of the foreign minister, Wang Yi (王毅), even on topics of rule of law and human rights, Hong Kong is not cited as an exemplar. When mentioned in a recent speech by Wang, it was only to say that China had opposed “foreign interference in Hong Kong and Macau affairs”. Recently in London, Hong Kong’s secretary for justice lauded the city’s system of overseas judges in the Court of Final Appeal as an “innovative formula” that “proved to be a success”. I cannot recall ever hearing a mainland official giving similar praise. Rather, one hears voices in the “one country” camp calling for the system to be dismantled. The judiciary, which enjoys both public confidence and international repute, should instead be a matter of national pride. One wonders whether such calls do a disservice to the national interest.

The 2014 white paper on “one country, two systems” stated correctly that “Hong Kong’s experience can be of reference for the mainland to pursue innovative ways in social and economic management”. This is an understatement as Hong Kong experience and talent can help the mainland in many other ways if given the opportunity.

As we mark the first 20 years and reflect on the next 20, it is time for all to take a fresh look at the Basic Law to get beyond the conflict of the internal dimension. The very survival of the Basic Law beyond 2047 may well depend on finding common ground in a new perspective.

Simon Young Ngai-man is professor and associate dean in the Faculty of Law, the University of Hong Kong

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再者,教授性教育是否大學的職責?據哈佛大學前校長Harry Lewis在其著作《失去靈魂的優秀》(Excellence Without a Soul)一書便指出,「愛」與「關懷」已佔據大學的價值觀中,而規範(Regulation)以及自我效能(Self-efficacy)則往往被擠到一旁,這直接令大學「託兒所化」,一些本應由家長進行的德育輔導(如性教育),逐漸成為大學的職責,而學生(包括加害者)均被視為「無力控制發生在自己身上的事」,如此職能和觀念,這實在是有違大學之道。

正如作家Eldridge Cleaver所言:「如你不是答案的一部分,便是問題的一部分」(You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem)。各方的「冷處理」,到底是解決問題,還是製造與縱容問題?如果被按在床上的是閣下兒女,你還會覺得這23名犯事者只是「過火」而不自知,又或抱着憐憫之心,認同他們是無力處理內心衝突的「受害者」?



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Hong Kong’s handover anniversary is an opportunity to restore faith in ‘two systems’

CommentInsight & Opinion
Anson Chan says the inspired solution of ‘one country, two systems’ has clearly floundered in recent years, and now is the time for incoming chief executive Carrie Lam, as well as Beijing, to act so the healing can begin and hope can return

The 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty has prompted a flurry of reflection and commentary, in both local media and, significantly, in the overseas press.

Back in 1997, if one was betting on the success of “one country, two systems”, the stakes would have been high. The concept, hailed as the brainchild of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), is certainly one of the most imaginative constitutional balancing acts ever devised: an inspired solution to what seemed like the impossible ­dilemma of how to fit one of the world’s most thriving capitalist ­enclaves into the socialist straitjacket of Communist China.

At the same time, sustaining the concept over the 50 years of “no change”, prescribed under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, was always going to be challenging. Leafing through some speeches ­I delivered shortly after the handover as chief secretary, I came across the following words from an address made in 1998 to the Asia Society in Washington: “None of us could know how our world might change after June 30, 1997. We had no precedent to compare with, or to follow. What we did have were the genuine good intentions and the best wishes of all parties involved. But even before the transition, I felt that, in the final analysis, it would be up to us, the people of Hong Kong, to make the transition work.”

My sentiments have not changed; if anything, I feel even more strongly that it is up to the people of Hong Kong to make “one country, two systems” work, up to and hopefully beyond 2047.

Project Citizens Foundation, of which I am a founding director, ­recently hosted a public forum on “Hong Kong 2047: Quo Vadis?” One of the speakers was Legislative Council member and Demosisto chair, Nathan Law Kwun-chung.

Law spoke movingly about how Hong Kong’s younger generations feel their future was just handed off by the British colonial power. As a result, they were robbed of any right of self-determination. This is why, he argued, so many young people struggle to identify with a motherland that doesn’t seem to understand their hopes and aspirations.

As I ponder the issue of where we go from here, I am reminded of the words of a song from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical: Jesus Christ Superstar : “I’ve been very hopeful so far, now for the first time I think we’re going wrong … could we start again please?’’

Why do these words resonate? Quite simply because, in the first few years after the transfer of sovereignty, “one country, two systems” worked as it was intended to do. Hong Kong continued to be administered by an able and politically neutral civil service, and there was no interference either by the leadership in Beijing, or the New China News Agency (the central government’s representative office before the liaison office was set up in 2000).

Until Hong Kong people are governed by politicians they respect and whom they can trust to protect their interests … it will be impossible to heal the rifts and safeguard ‘one country, two systems’

Things have gone badly wrong in recent years. Who is to blame? I do not intend to apportion blame, as it does not take us forward. Rather, I believe we should grasp the golden opportunity presented by the 20th anniversary of the handover, and the entry into office of a new chief executive, to start again: to turn over a new leaf in our relations with the central government.

First, Carrie Lam Cheng ­Yuet-ngor must step out of the shadow of the Leung Chun-ying era, with its lack of integrity and connivance in the relegation of Hong Kong’s status to a satellite of the mainland, rather than an ­important global city in its own right. She must quietly, but firmly, take back the reins of day-to-day governance of Hong Kong and make clear that, while her administration will respect fully its obligations under “one country”, the central authorities must stop eating away at the boundaries of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy guaranteed under “two systems”.

Recent thinly veiled warnings by the National People’s Congress chairman, Zhang Dejiang ( 張德江 ), to the effect that Beijing will not hesitate to tighten its grip in aspects such as the pace of political reform, its power over the chief executive, and its authority to ­appoint and dismiss key officials, are both uncalled for and totally counterproductive.

As Lam has already rightly emphasised to the leadership, the voices calling for independence for Hong Kong represent a tiny minority. The best thing Beijing can do is demonstrate that, having orchestrated her election as chief executive, they are prepared to trust in her judgement and show her the respect she needs to captain her ship.

Above all, Beijing must support Lam in taking steps to reverse the disastrous decline in the morale of the civil service, which is a direct consequence of its increasingly ­blatant interference in the day-to-day conduct of the bureaucracy.

I have made no secret, over the years, of my belief that the introduction of the political appointment system was misguided. It has drained the senior ranks of the civil service to fill ministerial positions and compromised the neutrality of those who remain. It has failed to nurture new political talent, as seen in the lacklustre performance of many of Leung’s team and the fact that Lam has clearly been less than successful in recruiting the new blood she had hoped for.

I am not convinced that the failure to attract ­talent from the private sector into government positions is due to ­lower pay, or a lack of public-spiritedness. Nor do I believe it is ­because they are discouraged by the (at times) toxic atmosphere in ­Legco. The only way to attract individuals of high calibre and integrity into the public service is to convince them they will be able to exercise their duties with intellectual rigour, impartiality, and according to their conscience. Until Hong Kong people are governed by politicians they respect and whom they can trust to protect their interests – politicians who have a genuine mandate by virtue of being ­appointed on the basis of a democratic system of fair and open elections – it will be impossible to heal the rifts in our society and safeguard “one country, two systems” for coming generations.

Bottom line? Lam cannot ­afford to place the issue of constitutional ­reform on the back-burner. At least, she must bring forward proposals to end the scandalous situation whereby the votes of a minority of vested interests in Legco and the Election Committee for chief executive can usurp the rights of the majority of Hong Kong electorate.

Lam cannot ­afford to place the issue of constitutional ­reform on the back-burner

Numerous well-thought-out proposals to broaden the electorate of the functional constituencies, or phase them out, were submitted during the 2013-2014 consultation process, ­including by my own Hong Kong 2020 think tank. All were ­ignored. These proposals should be revisited at the earliest opportunity.

Back on July 1, 1997, watching for the first time the raising of the national flag at the handover ceremony, I recall a sense of emotion that is hard to describe. I began to appreciate the spiritual propriety of Hong Kong’s return to the mainland. My family – like many in Hong Kong – did not leave China willingly. We left because we felt we had to.

I felt we had been a country and a people divided … now we had an ­opportunity to be whole

As a Chinese, I felt we had been a country and a people divided, travelling different roads and shaped by ­different events. Now we had an ­opportunity to be whole.

On July 1 this year, my emotions are going to be far more mixed. I will take pride in the achievements of the past 20 years, in the resilience of our community and its determination to hold on to the values, freedoms and way of life we hold dear. At the same time, I will feel disappointment and alarm that the precious concept of “one country, two systems” seems to be floundering, despite the best efforts of so many.

The visit of President Xi Jinping (習近平),who arrives on Thursday to officiate at the anniversary celebrations, is an opportunity I hope our country’s leader will embrace: an opportunity to promote the healing process and give our young people hope. Could we start again please?

Anson Chan, a former chief secretary of Hong Kong, is convenor of Hong Kong 2020