Line of fire

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2012, 12:00am


With the 15th anniversary of the city's handover approaching, the latest trust and confidence survey released by the University of Hong Kong shows that 37 per cent of people mistrust the central government - the highest level since 1997, when it was 44 per cent.

The poll also found that the younger the respondents, the more mistrust they had. The highest level was among those aged between 18 and 29 - 51 per cent. Among those aged 30 to 49, it was 40 per cent, and for those aged 50 and above, 28 per cent.

The rise was obviously triggered by the violation of human rights in the treatment of a number of dissidents such as blind activist Chen Guangcheng and Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang , whose recent suspicious death stirred a public outcry. These incidents, as expected, struck a chord with Hongkongers because they concerned some of their most cherished core values, such as freedom, rule of law and human rights.

There is most concern over the case of Li, who was deaf, blind and suffered from ill health. His so-called suicide came after being interviewed by the media.

The majority of Hongkongers were angered and revolted by the vulgar way in which the case was handled by the mainland authorities.

Since the handover, ties between Hong Kong and the mainland have grown deeper and broader. But, at the same time, this relationship has created a certain degree of conflict because of the intrinsic differences in political, financial, social and cultural backgrounds and development.

According to the latest Gini coefficient index - a scale measuring income inequality - the gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong stands at its widest in decades, at 0.537. The system is measured on a scale from 0 to 1 on which higher scores indicate greater income inequality.

An increasing number of people are no longer prepared to internalise their anger and we may be on the verge of a social rebellion that threatens to blow up in our face at any time.

As social anxiety rises, there is a tendency to point the finger at outsiders and draw a line between us and them. In Hong Kong, most people believe their common enemies are mainlanders, who they blame for pushing up property prices and snatching up all the good things, be it baby formula or maternity services. These differences in lifestyle and social behaviour are no longer conflicts on a personal level; it has degenerated into a national problem.

This has set alarm bells ringing about the danger of an unstoppable collision between the two sides. The government must deal with it properly and swiftly, or there will be unimaginable consequences.

Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has done little to tackle the internal conflict. On the contrary, he has worsened the situation by announcing the government's zero quota for pregnant mainlanders to give birth in Hong Kong. Furthermore, he has voiced concerns over Hong Kong's ability to expand the individual visitor scheme.

In order to resolve this conflict, both sides must have mutual respect and find common ground despite their differences.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.