Leung Chun-ying’s 2015 policy address has been touted as marking a new chapter in youth-related initiatives following the recent troubles in the wake of the Occupy movement.
In this commentary I would like to focus on what Leung and his administration actually seem to think about our young citizens. Going through the policy speech, it would appear that the government wants to suppress the youth further, rather than helping them better their lives.
While Leung has pledged to focus more on youth issues, there was a stern assault on a student union publication, sending out the message that if our youth show any tendency to move away from China, even in words or writings, they will surely face a crackdown.
In paragraph 10 of the introduction, Leung specifically cited the February 2014 issue of the Undergrad (《學苑》) — the official magazine of the University of Hong Kong Students’ Union — which featured a cover story entitled “Hong Kong people deciding their own fate (香港民族 命運自決)”, as well as a 2013 book “Hong Kong Nationalism （香港民族論)”, which was also compiled by the HKU students union.
The chief executive went so far as to say that “Undergrad magazine and students, including leaders of the Occupy movement, have misstated some facts and we must stay alert”. He also urged those with close ties to student leaders “to advise them against putting forward such fallacies”.
Leung’s remarks are overbearing. It is rare anywhere in the world that a top leader issues such a heavy-worded, overwhelming accusation against local students in his official capacity, on an occasion that is perceived as very formal (delivering policy address to the legislature).
The Department of Justice may seek prosecution if the students’ actions are unlawful but otherwise no one, including the chief executive, has the right to pass judgments. Apparently Leung has adopted the mainland’s approach to restrict freedoms of the press and speech.
All citizens have the equal right of free speech when it comes to political affairs, and their opinions do not necessarily have to be politically correct. The government can disagree with the thoughts but the only appropriate means for officials is equal participation: to engage in debates and discussions through articles and commentaries to expound the government’s point of view.
The student union would have already included the government’s voice in the publications had Leung not adopted such a harsh attitude in the first place. Leung did nothing back then when the magazine and book came out almost a year ago, and now he is adding fuel to the flames.
It must be pointed out that both the magazine and the book carried two of my commentaries discussing Taiwan independence and Hong Kong’s full autonomy. These articles first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, and Leung and his subordinates must have read them. But unlike the 2013 incident in which a legal firm representing Leung sent a letter to HKEJ (for one of my commentaries accusing Leung of having ties with triad society), he has targeted students this time.
If Leung really wants to exhort students, he has to withdraw unfair remarks, apologize and contribute to the publications to express his own thoughts and beliefs. Leung is good at writing and the government also has a lot of advisors, I hope he can make good use of these resources to inspire and guide students in a sensible manner.
New policies are not helping
As for specific initiatives proposed in the policy address, some of them run counter to the stated priority to nurture our youngsters.
For instance, the government plans to encourage the extension of retirement age, first, by extending the service of civil servants with the hope that other employers will also follow suit.
It’s a matter of regret that the government is going backwards on its promise to enhance social upward mobility for our youth. Extending retirement age can only be considered when there is no other viable alternative to unleash the potential of the local labor force.
In other proposals, a pilot scheme to attract the second generation of overseas Hongkongers to return to the territory is pointless. As people have a lot of grievances and frustration permeates every corner of our society, it would really need a lot of resources and incentives to woo emigrant kids back home.
The adjustment to the General Points Test under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme to attract talents from outside is another piece of bad news to local youngsters. In a normal society such a policy can be productive and if some locals are crowded out, they can go to nearby places to seek opportunities.
But in the context of Hong Kong youth, if they lose jobs to outside competitors, they may have nowhere to go (Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre found in a recent survey that 65 percent of local youth are unwilling to take jobs in China for reasons like the lack of the rule of law and negative perceptions about the mainland society).
The plan to study the feasibility of a talent list to attract people also means that Hong Kong’s good jobs and opportunities will only be reserved for foreigners and mainlanders.
On another front, while it may seem that Leung is responding to locals’ resentment by suspending the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme – a program to grant residency to capital investors, the move won’t have any concrete impact. It won’t stop corrupt Chinese cadres and businessmen from exiting via Hong Kong.
The big boys still have many workarounds, like gaining overseas status through schemes in places like Southern Pacific and Caribbean nations as well as central/western Asian and African countries, and then apply for Hong Kong residence under “entrepreneurs from overseas” – a category of “quality immigrants” encouraged in the policy address.
Rather than winning back young Hongkongers’ hearts, Leung has fanned their discontent with a set of policies that aim to belittle them further.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 15.
Translation by Frank Chen
– Contact us at [email protected]