Hong Kong’s youth play an important role in shaping the city’s future. Regardless of what critics say, the pro-democracy Occupy campaign shows that the youth care about their city. They want to make it a better place not only for themselves and but also for the generations after them.
But Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, during his visit to the Qianhai-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone over the weekend, appears to hold a different view of the city’s young generation.
After attending the opening of a youth innovation and entrepreneur hub in the economic zone, Leung said Hong Kong’s youth can pursue career opportunities in Qianhai and other places outside their city.
At the same time, he warned that local employers are finding it hard to get skilled workers and professionals to fill up vacancies in their companies and expand their businesses. He said Hong Kong may have to resume its labor import policy to fill the market demand.
While there is nothing wrong with encouraging youngsters to explore career opportunities overseas, Leung’s remarks, coming at a time when the youth-propelled Occupy campaign has yet to be resolved, appear to the insensitive and perhaps even insulting.
He seems to be telling the youth: “If you don’t like the way things are being run in Hong Kong, you are free to go elsewhere, and we can easily hire your replacements from the mainland.” Of course, he would deny this that this is what he meant.
But his remarks betray his inability to understand the youth’s concerns, sentiments and aspirations.
Officials insist that the youth’s discontent springs from economic issues, such as rising school fees, skyrocketing home prices and rents, and lack of job opportunities. That is true, up to a certain extent. But by looking at economic issues alone, officials are likely to arrive at the wrong conclusion that offering them more jobs and other material benefits will eventually eliminate the social tensions involving the youth.
It won’t. The youth are looking beyond their own interests. They are seeking more than employment opportunities. They want more than the means to buy their own home, raise their own family and succeed in their chosen career.
They are seeking fairness and justice. They want to be involved in shaping government policies, in monitoring government operations. They want to help narrow the widening income gap in the city.
That is why they have taken to the streets to demand genuine universal suffrage. They want to make sure that they can elect their own leaders without Beijing limiting their choices.
But like a stern, uncompromising parent, the Hong Kong government simply has no time or inclination to hear them out.
They just want the young generation to follow what the government has planned for them. Any challenge to government policies is unacceptable, most probably instigated by radical opposition groups or external forces.
However, the young people may have something important to say, and Hong Kong can benefit if their voices are heard.
In the matter of economic development, for example, the youth have raised concerns that Hong Kong has become too much dependent on China. They fear that such a policy will eventually reduce the opportunities that are available to them.
In fact, the situation where young people find it hard to find jobs in the city, which, at the same time, has to look to the mainland and other parts of the world to supply its labor needs bespeaks of the government’s wrong policies and priorities.
Hong Kong’s youth believe that all the preferential economic policies that Beijing is granting Hong Kong are meant to make the city more reliant on the mainland. Eventually, they fear, Hong Kong will be reduced to an ordinary mainland city, emptied of its unique qualities and character.
These are dangerous thoughts, as far as the government is concerned. Beijing won’t like the youth entertaining such thoughts.
But what cannot be denied is that Hong Kong’s future belongs to the youth. They have every right to determine it.
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