Ho Lok-sang be­lieves en­demic dis­trust in govt has cre­ated a run of stale­mates and seeks a fresh fo­cus on pub­lic in­ter­est

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

In the past few years Hong Kong has seen a lot of stale­mates. There was a stale­mate over the is­sue of stan­dard work­ing hours. There was a stale­mate over how to han­dle the Manda­tory Prov­i­dent Fund off­set is­sue. There was a stale­mate over Med­i­cal Coun­cil re­form bill. There was a stale­mate over the Copy­right (Amend­ment) Bill. And now there could be a stale­mate over the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to have co-lo­ca­tion of im­mi­gra­tion check­points at the high-speed rail link’s West Kowloon Ter­mi­nus.

Each time there is a stale­mate Hong Kong is at a stand­still. In both the stan­dard work­ing hours is­sue and the MPF off­set is­sue, it is em­ploy­ees against em­ploy­ers. Em­ployee rep­re­sen­ta­tives walked out from the Labour Ad­vi­sory Board meet­ings leav­ing only em­ployer rep­re­sen­ta­tives to work out a pro­posal on stan­dard work­ing hours to sub­mit to the gov­ern­ment, which of course was rou­tinely con­demned by la­bor groups as un­fair and pro-busi­ness. In the Med­i­cal Coun­cil re­form bill is­sue, sadly it ap­peared as if it was doc­tors ver­sus pa­tients, as pa­tient groups sought to im­port more doc­tors and have more non-doc­tor rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the coun­cil. As for the Copy­right (Amend­ment) Bill 2014, one cor­re­spon­dent re­marked: “Hong Kong might be one of the most wired cities on the planet but its copy­right leg­is­la­tion re­mains a prod­uct of the pre-in­ter­net era — a sit­u­a­tion that has ram­i­fi­ca­tions for busi­nesses, con­sumers of web con­tent and an in­creas­ingly dig­i­tal­ized me­dia alike.” Since there are ap­par­ently no gain­ers and all par­ties ap­pear to be losers, it is re­ally not clear “who is against whom”. Again, in the lat­est round of con­tro­versy over the joint im­mi­gra­tion check­point is­sue, even though it ap­pears that it is “pan-democrats” against the proestab­lish­ment camp, killing the ini­tia­tive re­ally does not do any­one any good. A nat­u­ral ques­tion then is: Why are some peo­ple so against it?

It seems to me that the alarmist tone of those who op­pose this, as well as that of those who op­posed the Copy­right (Amend­ment) Bill, re­flects fear and dis­trust. But this is re­ally like shoot­ing our­selves in the foot. The The author is dean of busi­ness at the Chu Hai Col­lege of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. Copy­right (Amend­ment) Bill had the sup­port of the then chair­per­son of the Hong Kong Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, who cer­tainly has no rea­son to un­der­mine the broader in­ter­ests of Hong Kong. Those who op­posed the bill feared it would re­strict cre­ative free­dom. But the gov­ern­ment was mind­ful to ex­clude any­one from any le­gal li­a­bil­ity if de­riv­a­tive ma­te­rial based on copy­righted works was cre­ated for the pur­poses of par­ody, satire, car­i­ca­ture, pas­tiche or com­men­tary on cur­rent events. This is sim­i­lar to what other gov­ern­ments have done for their lands. Why are peo­ple in Hong Kong more wor­ried than oth­ers? The fear re­flects noth­ing but a lack of trust for the gov­ern­ment, and this is a real prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed.

Sim­i­larly, the ob­jec­tion to the pro­posed ar­range­ment for a joint im­mi­gra­tion check­point re­flects a lack of trust for the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment and for Beijing. The op­po­nents say that if a prece­dent is opened up for any des­ig­nated part of Hong Kong to be sub­ject to Chi­nese main­land laws, the gov­ern­ment could des­ig­nate other ar­eas in Hong Kong as be­ing sub­ject to main­land laws, and then Hong Kong peo­ple would no longer be pro­tected by the Ba­sic Law. This fear is en­tirely imag­ined, be­cause it is nei­ther in Beijing’s in­ter­est nor that of the SAR gov­ern­ment to do so at all. The fact is that if Beijing wants to take over Hong Kong al­to­gether there would be noth­ing Hong Kong peo­ple could do to re­sist it. But Beijing has cho­sen to pre­serve Hong Kong as it is for a good rea­son: The sta­tus quo is in the in­ter­ests of Hong Kong and the main­land. Beijing has al­ways been very prag­matic in eco­nomic and in le­gal re­forms, and the di­rec­tion is very clear. It is re­lent­lessly open­ing up the main­land to the rest of the world, to the ex­tent that more and more main­land res­i­dents are find­ing the main­land a free land where they can find their dreams. Last year 122 mil­lion main­land tourists made out­bound trips, spend­ing $109.8 bil­lion, and they all re­turned to their home­land. From 1978 to the end of 2015, the cu­mu­la­tive to­tal of main­land stu­dents go­ing abroad to study was 4.04 mil­lion. About 80 per­cent of grad­u­ates have re­turned to the main­land. More­over, more and more Hong Kong peo­ple are now liv­ing on the main­land. What is there to fear?

To ward off this fear and dis­trust, it is im­per­a­tive that we strive to build a new cul­ture of prag­mat­i­cally car­ing for the com­mon good. I had ear­lier pro­posed that the Labour Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil needs to in­clude ci­ti­zen rep­re­sen­ta­tives who will coun­ter­bal­ance the nar­row per­spec­tives of em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees. The gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to ex­pand mem­ber­ship of the Med­i­cal Coun­cil is sim­i­lar in spirit. But this is not enough. The gov­ern­ment should avoid feed­ing dis­trust and sus­pi­cion with any thought­less de­vi­a­tions from ac­cepted stan­dards and pro­ce­dures, and should wel­come con­struc­tive pol­icy pro­pos­als from the op­po­si­tion par­ties.

The op­po­nents say that if a prece­dent is opened up for any des­ig­nated part of Hong Kong to be sub­ject to Chi­nese main­land laws, the gov­ern­ment could des­ig­nate other ar­eas in Hong Kong as be­ing sub­ject to main­land laws... This fear is en­tirely imag­ined, be­cause it is nei­ther in Beijing’s in­ter­est nor that of the SAR gov­ern­ment to do so at all.

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