22 March 2019
Pro-democracy activists shout slogans during a briefing for Legco candidates. Photo: HKEJ
Pro-democracy activists shout slogans during a briefing for Legco candidates. Photo: HKEJ

Is it getting too hot?

Hong Kong’s expatriates are familiar with the story of the frogs put in gradually heated water who do not realize the danger until too late and hence are boiled to death.

We love this city but we are wary of it. We want to go on living here for a myriad different reasons.

All the same, we cannot ignore its inherent instability.

We may grouse about the democratic countries that we are familiar with but we understand how their institutions work while Hong Kong is a great experiment which, although exciting, can also be a tad frightening.

We cling onto the strong pillars of Hong Kong, guaranteed by the Basic Law: freedom under the rule of law.

We have learnt to live, more or less, with unsatisfactory fundamentals of government in that we do not have a sensibly functioning legislature.

We understand the accidents of history that have led to this situation and we have been sympathetic to the efforts to reach a rational resolution.

We have balanced out bad and good and the calculation has been in Hong Kong’s favor.

“Has been in Hong Kong’s favor” but have we now come to the point where the water is suddenly uncomfortably hot?

The reason for the rising temperature is, of course, the current controversy as to who may or may not stand in the forthcoming Legislative Council election.

If the powers that be are upsetting the balance, is it for a worthwhile or inescapable cause?

Hongkongers, quite understandably, have an abhorrence for anything that threatens the rule of law.

If there were candidates whose candidacy was illegal then very few indeed would oppose their being banned from the Legco election.

In the end, it is only the courts which can rule on this question but the question is not put to them and instead arbitrary pronouncements and decisions are made.

The fear is, obviously, that after Sept. 4 Legco will include one or more proponents of Hong Kong independence.

How devastating would that be? Perhaps not as much as might be supposed.

Legco cannot form a government and certainly has no power to forward the cause of the SAR’s independence.

So we are now facing a summer of great uncertainty – uncertainty as to who can stand as a candidate – and, yet again, public protests and discontent.

Meanwhile, in Rio, the Olympics remind us of the importance of agreed sets of rules in order for humans to sensibly carry out many activities.

The pre-handover administration is loosely referred to as the British administration but while the UK was the sovereign power, administration was firmly in the hands of a cadre composed of local Chinese and Britons who devoted their lives to Hong Kong.

Oftentimes, this Hong Kong administration would find itself arguing with the government in London, explaining the quirks of our community and, occasionally, standing firm in defense of its interests.

Post-handover, the Hong Kong administration has the same sort of function vis-à-vis China.

This is a new skill required by a new situation but it’s arguable that the SAR government should be making efforts to be more effective in this direction.

In addition, the government must bring out clear rules as to who is and who is not eligible to stand for Legco, with examples and the underlying legal arguments set out.

These rules must come from the top of the administration rather than being made the responsibility of some hapless returning officer who then has to suffer the consequences more or less unsupported: hardly a model of good HR practice.

It is possible to imagine that if this process were to lead to court challenges, it might even, in the worst case, lead to a need to re-run the Legco election.

This would certainly be pretty traumatic but our community has in the recent past faced and overcome even bigger challenges than that.

Surely, all these difficulties are not worth facing just in order to cool down, metaphorically, an army of expatriate frogs?

Well, of course, it should have other benefits such as returning a degree of calmness to the community as a whole.

At the same time, Hong Kong should cherish and cosset its expatriates as a moment’s thought will show how valuable they are given how many of them are Hong Kong boys and girls who have been educated overseas and then gained work experience and a foreign passport.

These are just the sort of cosmopolitan and open-minded people that we need to innovate and thus power our economy to new heights.

Let us cool down the social temperature so that these clever frogs are comfortable and can do their best work to the advantage of all of us.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former assistant director of social welfare of HKSAR Government

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