Youth should value Lam’s olive branch

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Two days be­fore the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion Es­tab­lish­ment Day hol­i­day the BBC in­ter­viewed me and asked about prospects for Hong Kong. I gave an op­ti­mistic an­swer, cit­ing the dura­bil­ity of “one coun­try, two sys­tems” and, above all, the fine qual­i­ties of our young peo­ple who, with ma­tu­rity, we could ex­pect to be ef­fec­tive lead­ers in fu­ture years. How­ever, within 24 hours I was al­ready hav­ing doubts about my fa­vor­able ver­dict. Two events were re­spon­si­ble for this change of heart.

The first came from BBC World Ser­vice tele­vi­sion — and on HKSAR Es­tab­lish­ment Day it­self. The tele­vi­sion showed the dis­ap­point­ing im­ages of Hong Kong that were be­ing flashed around the world as demon­stra­tors and po­lice scuf­fled, and the ac­tivists were bun­dled away. I have met some of these protesters and knew oth­ers by rep­u­ta­tion. They in­clude in­tel­li­gent, well­mo­ti­vated young peo­ple who are will­ing to make sac­ri­fices for their be­liefs. This makes it all the more dis­turb­ing that they seem stuck in a rut of re­peat­ing the kind of tac­tics they have used over and over again. They protest with no clear goal in sight so their be­hav­ior seems like demon­strat­ing for its own sake. They in­evitably suf­fer in­juries them­selves and tie up valu­able so­cial re­sources, par­tic­u­larly po­lice man­power. This would all be bad enough but what leaves a sour taste in the mouth is that this may­hem was be­ing cre­ated as Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet­ngor was tak­ing of­fice as chief ex­ec­u­tive — and she is some­one who has fre­quently stated that one of her pri­or­i­ties is a bet­ter di­a­logue with Hong Kong’s young peo­ple. Would it not have been a bet­ter use of their time to sit and plan how to use this new op­por­tu­nity, to thrash out is­sues and pro­pos­als they wish to put to her and her se­nior team?

The right to peace­ful protest is one of Hong Kong’s trea­sured free­doms. How­ever, this right has to be re­spected and ex­er­cised with pro­pri­ety and wis­dom. In to­day’s cir­cum­stances, it is hardly sur­pris­ing that this year’s July 1 march showed a sharp de­cline in the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants. Rather than en­gag­ing the com­mu­nity, this de­mon­stra­tion has be­come more like a lit­tle club for the sel­f­re­gard­ing and self-ab­sorbed mi­nor­ity. Hong Kong peo­ple are in gen­eral prag­matic and peace-lov­ing. For very good rea­sons, they will shun and, in the case of par­ents, urge their chil­dren to shun, events that look likely to de­gen­er­ate into vi­o­lence.

Thus I felt dis­heart­ened that the world was be­ing given a pic­ture of Hong Kong as a city riven with dis­sent rather than a place where peo­ple are ready to join hands to find mu­tu­ally agree­able so­lu­tions to gov­er­nance is­sues. Very soon after­ward, some­thing else oc­curred that was dif­fer­ent in kind and scale but only added to my con­cerns about the di­rec­tion this city of ours was tak­ing willynilly.

I ran into some­one I have known for a while, a young woman of out­stand­ing in­tel­li­gence and thought­ful­ness, a po­lite and con­sid­er­ate per­son whom any­one would be proud to have as a friend. How­ever, she did not seem her usual com­posed self, and it turned out she had been the vic­tim of a very nasty in­ci­dent when, as a pas­sen­ger on a bus, she had been sub­jected to hos­tile abuse by three Hong Kong res­i­dents. How had she pro­voked this? What crime had she com­mit­ted? She had been heard speak­ing Pu­tonghua. I told her this was not an iso­lated ex­pe­ri­ence: an Amer­i­can Chi­nese per­son liv­ing here had men­tioned to me that she cus­tom­ar­ily used English in lo­cal shops af­ter find­ing that her Pu­tonghua pro­duced a very neg­a­tive re­ac­tion.

And what was truly ironic was that both these women had their ori­gins in Tai­wan rather than the Chi­nese main­land. We like to be­lieve that our city is a safe and wel­com­ing place but, in re­cent times, too many of our fel­low cit­i­zens let us down and be­have in a dis­tinctly self-right­eous and gra­tu­itously abu­sive man­ner.

We can­not af­ford to be com­pla­cent or to min­i­mize these dis­tress­ing ex­am­ples of things be­ing other than they should. They are both char­ac­ter­ized by mind­less­ness and in­tol­er­ance that leads to a pur­pose­less and dam­ag­ing lash­ing out. Our youth should lead the way in demon­strat­ing ci­vil­ity to­ward all and a will­ing­ness to think an­a­lyt­i­cally and ob­jec­tively rather than be­hav­ing like oafish brutes. Rea­son and self-con­trol are among civ­i­lized hu­man be­ings’ great­est gifts, and it’s through their fur­ther cul­ti­va­tion that so­ci­ety will progress. Our so­ci­ety will be ren­dered asun­der if one sec­tor tries to im­pose its will through brute force. Di­a­logue, as our new CE has con­tin­u­ously of­fered, is the only way to over­come our dif­fer­ences and move for­ward.

If I am for­tu­nate enough to live to see the 40th an­niver­sary of the re­uni­fi­ca­tion, I hope I will be able to give the BBC and any­one else who wants to lis­ten an ac­count of a spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion that has ful­filled all its prom­ise and po­ten­tial and not of a once-great city which has stag­nated be­cause some of its most vo­cal peo­ple care­lessly threw away its many ad­van­tages be­cause of pig­headed fac­tion­al­ism.


Mother uses a shop­ping trol­ley to give her son’s legs a break as they weave be­tween grid­locked cars on a Tai Po street.

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