Students don't realize their good fortune
Updated: 2014-09-23 06:57
By Ho Lok-Sang(HK Edition)
When young people care about society - it is like a dream for me. When they are willing to make sacrifices to improve the lives of others, it is the best thing an educator can ever hear. However, it is upsetting when young people come to rash conclusions without adequately considering the facts. I find it worrying.
The week beginning Sept 22 has been designated a week of class boycotts by the Hong Kong Federation of Students. To these students - protesting against the framework for political reform passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee - Hong Kong has fallen from grace. A flyer I picked up on Lingnan University campus declared: "The class boycott is to show our discontent with unjust authoritarianism. We demand that the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 follow the principle of equal nomination rights for citizens, in order to uphold the freedom and dignity of our city."
The flyer adds, "The Hong Kong we know now suffers from all kinds of ills. The hegemony of the landed class, the collusion between officials and business... all are the results of an undemocratic political system."
Whoever wrote this should provide evidence for "all kinds of ills" and the lack of effort by the SAR government in dealing with them. Students should not make unsubstantiated claims. They need to see things in perspective. Hong Kong has done no worse than many democratic countries and regions. Indeed, it ranks higher than Belgium, France, and the United States according to the 2014 World Justice Project (WJP). Our overall WJP score, at 0.76, is marginally short of the United Kingdom's 0.78, and well ahead of the US at 0.71.
The flyer attributes the sharp increases in Hong Kong housing prices to its political system. But housing prices in Brazil have tripled since 2008, according to the Financial Times in February, and Brazil has an elected government. Democratic Japan permitted Tokyo Electric Power to continue operating its nuclear power plant at Fukushima (the decommissioning of the plant was long overdue) resulting in a major environmental disaster. Is this not collusion between officials and business? Students have accused the SAR government of policies favoring the rich and powerful. But as I pointed out last week, the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance in Hong Kong is a clear example of exactly the opposite attitude by the SAR government.
Indeed, both Hong Kong and the whole country have, in recent years, gone a long way to genuinely improving people's livelihood. Students and our populist politicians must not be blind to this. For example, the quality of our public housing estates has improved tremendously over the years.
During my childhood, my parents had to pay school fees from Primary One through to Form Seven. Now, Hong Kong has free primary and secondary education. Prior to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 1974 corruption in the territory was rampant. Since 1989, we have had the Office of the Ombudsman. It became independent from the government with the enactment of The Ombudsman (Amendment) Ordinance on Dec 19, 2001 to redress grievances arising from maladministration in the public sector.
What amazes me is that when I was at university, when China was in the grip of the Cultural Revolution and the "Gang of Four" was running the country. The mainland was a closed society with a tightly controlled economy. At that time the student movement in Hong Kong was almost single-mindedly following the dictates of the "Gang of Four" in order to be "pro-Beijing". Now, following the mainland's many reforms, today it is essentially an open society. But the student movement is almost totally against the mainland!
Students say they are capable of independent and critical thinking. I seriously wonder about this. I only hope Hong Kong students can be more open-minded. Being constructively critical of government policy - whether on the mainland or in Hong Kong - should be encouraged, even welcomed. But students should be more positive and try to do all they can to help the central and SAR governments.
The author is the director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at Lingnan University.
(HK Edition 09/23/2014 page7)