22 March 2019
Chinese University vice chancellor Joseph Sung (inset) says Hong Kong youth need to be given hope about their future. Photos: HKEJ, AFP
Chinese University vice chancellor Joseph Sung (inset) says Hong Kong youth need to be given hope about their future. Photos: HKEJ, AFP

What Leung should learn after his flop policy address

Leung Chun-ying’s policy address last week has received the lowest approval rating ever for such annual endeavors by Hong Kong’s leaders since the 1997 handover. 

According to the latest poll from the University of Hong Kong, the net satisfaction rate on the speech now stands at a negative 27 percentage points, compared with a negative 5 percentage points on the day of the address last Wednesday.

The verdict from the 18 to 29 age group was worse than the overall avearge, with most youngsters saying they want Leung to resign.

With the dissatisfaction rate at a record high, the chief executive must be wondering why people, particularly the youth, are becoming more disenchanted with his administration even as he takes up some housing and public welfare measures.

Well, if he is serious in looking for answers, Leung would do well to read a note written this week by Joseph Sung, the vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Sung, who is well-known for his deep understanding of social issues, wrote in a blog post Wednesday that the youth must be given a patient hearing to help resolve their problems and give them hope for the future. 

Leung, in his policy address, criticized students for indulging in a debate about Hong Kong independence in a university publication, but Sung said in his article that the society needs to understand the anger of the youth.

“I am trying to understand the anger of our youngsters. I hope that our society will listen and understand them as well. They need public policy and measures to give them hope for the future,” Sung wrote. 

Sung did not make any direct mention of Leung’s criticism of the youth, but the message was clear. Freedom of expression must be respected in society and the government needs to indulge in dialogue, not confrontation, with young citizens.

Leung’s threat that the youngsters could be in trouble if they talk or think about moving away from Chinese rule is seen as off the mark.

The chief executive needs to ponder why some young people are harboring pro-independence thoughts, or at the least, more self-determination for Hong Kong.

The Leung administration does not have an official response or solution to the issue, merely seeing it as fallout of the Occupy campaign and suspected influence of external forces in Hong Kong affairs.

The youth should change their thinking and adopt a nationalist mindset, according to Leung. The charges notwithstanding, the truth is that Hong Kong youth are mostly concerned about livelihood issues and Hong Kong’s status, rather than anything else.

Authorities have been championing the so-called China-Hong Kong economic integration, and Leung has even urged local youth to head to the mainland to take up jobs there.

From the government perspective, economic integration can strengthen the legitimacy of China’s sovereignty on Hong Kong. But Hong Kong youth have a different perspective. They are more concerned about the territory maintaining its own development path, global competitiveness and its uniqueness among Chinese cities. 

Such feelings shouldn’t be interpreted in a political light, as the youngsters merely want to ensure that they have enough opportunities in the future, observers say.

The key point is that the youth are confronted with doubts about their future and the city’s own identity, as increased meddling by Beijing threatens to erode Hong Kong’s core values of fairness, transparency and justice. 

Having grown up in Hong Kong, Leung and his colleagues shouldn’t find it too difficult to understand why the youth are getting more disillusioned. But for that, they need to keep an open mind and listen to the people, rather than condemn their mindset.

The administration must realize that unless it reaches out and makes sincere efforts to address the grievances, the alienation of the youth will only grow.

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EJ Insight writer

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