Our citizens deserve better than a one-way ticket

August 19, 2022 10:49
Photo: Reuters

There is an exodus. People are leaving.

We can wax lyrical all day long – “They’ll come back.”, “If we don’t get rid of the old, how would the new come in?” (a terribly instrumentalist and blasé statement, at that), or, better yet, “All of this is fake news!” But waxing lyrical won’t help solve Hong Kong’s many, many problems. These problems are deeply rooted and severe – they require genuine, imminent redress. And redress doesn’t come through burying our own heads in the sand, pretending that all is kumbaya. Nor does it emerge from merely repeating oft-trotted and well-rehearsed slogans concerning Hong Kong’s turning a new page.

First, it is imperative that we instill in our citizens a sense of hope. Whether it be the creation of a more diverse range of dignified job opportunities, the provision of upskilling and retraining that reflect the times and demands as such that we live in, or, indeed, amelioration to the cramped and atrocious conditions under which many live – these are all necessary reforms to rebuild the momentum, the thirst and agitation for betterment that have long undergirded our success story. Many in our city don’t see a way out of entrenched poverty, or hapless cycles of mindless, mundane and fundamentally unfulfilling work. So let’s diversify industries, ramp up genuinely progressive education programmes, and direct poverty alleviation efforts at the root causes – the stifling of aspirations and the estrangement of a permanent ‘underclass’ from social and financial capital.

Second, it is high time that the government took to rebuilding trust and repairing the frayed ties with those who may well harbour different – even divergent – opinions concerning the present situation and future of Hong Kong. The past few years have scarred our city, split many families and friendship groups asunder, and sowed amongst our population deeply embedded seeds of frustration and resentment. Merely resorting to ‘education’ or ‘mass communication campaigns’ won’t cut it as solutions – why? For Hong Kongers are not static, passive recipients that would take kindly to overt hard-selling and attempts at reframing their versions and understandings of reality. More interlocution, more genuinely empathetic dialogue, and reconciliation-driven rehabilitation – not punitive measures – are necessary in order to mend the rift that has emerged between different political camps and generations.

Finally, the political establishment must care more. They must wake up to the fact that these draconian quarantine restrictions, occasionally arbitrary public health measures, and a failure to grasp and grapple with the angst of those who are unsure about how to navigate the seismic political shake-ups that have rocked our city – are fundamentally alienating. And it is the people’s authorisation and recognition – as with the case in the mainland – that undergirds any sound and legitimate regime. We must restore agency to the hands of our youth: empower, not subjugate; encourage, not stymy. Give them the means to pursue a more constructive, proactive vision for Hong Kong – one into which they can buy, and for which many amidst the wider population, I’m sure, would have time.

I have no doubts over the resolve of many in our administration to stand up for the right thing, and to do the right thing. I have no doubt that these are folks who want to serve Hong Kong – and who harbour genuine sentiments of patriotism and devotion to both country and city. Yet much more remains to be done, to be said, and to be seen through. We bear a unique responsibility to ensure that whether it be our future generations, that our peers, or those who have toiled and laboured on our behalf, they do not see departure as the sole option – and the fate to which they are consigned, over Hong Kong. Our citizens shouldn’t be flying out of Hong Kong with a one-way ticket, to places where they are doomed to economically precarious lives in the unknown. No one should feel that they are left with no choice but to emigrate from this home of theirs.

Copyright: Project Syndicate
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Assistant Professor, HKU