Today's SCMP Debate is the last in a weekly series as part of our build-up to the 15th anniversary, on July 1, of the establishment of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. In our third instalment, we ask five long-time residents to look ahead another 15 years into the future of our city.
Q1 Imagine Hong Kong 15 years from now. What will have changed and what will remain the same?
Q2 What are the major challenges facing Hong Kong in the next 15 years?
Q3 Do you expect to be living in Hong Kong 15 years from now? What would influence your decision?
Director of the Society for Community Organisation and a member of the preparatory task force for the Commission on Poverty
A1 I have a dream that, 15 years from now, all cage homes will have disappeared into the dustbin of history. No more reports about cage homes will be carried on the front pages of international media. Those living in cage homes and the 100,000 residents living in inadequate housing such as cocklofts, bed-space apartments, subdivided flats and rooftop huts will be housed with dignity and humanity. The waiting time for public housing will be shortened so that the housing needs of the poor can be solved in a short time.
I have a dream that no more old people will stretch out their hands begging for newspapers from the passengers near the turnstiles at MTR stations, no old people will have to kowtow for a coin from strangers, no old person will have to hang around on the streets or in an alley searching for cardboard to earn a living, and that all the elderly in Hong Kong will enjoy universal retirement protection through the Mandatory Provident Fund and no one will have to worry about his living after retirement.
And I have a dream that no parents of mentally retarded people need be frustrated about the care of their children after they pass away. The government will respect the rights of the disabled. I have another dream: that all old people in the final stage of their life will stay in a clean, secure living environment with good ventilation, privacy and no foul odours filling their rooms. Our neighbourhoods will respect the disabled and the elderly with love and care as a civilised society.
I also dream that the enthusiasm of Hong Kong citizens for democracy and human rights will remain unchanged and that they will show even more concern about the human rights situation on the mainland.
A2 Providing a good education for the next generation is the major challenge in Hong Kong. Children are the future asset of society. Because the city lacks a unique role in the economic development of the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong's function as a bridge between China and the world will gradually fade away with the rise of Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities in China. Under rapid economic change and globalisation, the next generation must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to face change and competition.
Another challenge facing Hong Kong is its ageing population. The government has to formulate all-round population policies to assist the elderly.
Sufficient public resources should be allocated for medical and welfare services to ensure decent living conditions for the poor elderly.
Whether professionals and government officials can maintain their professionalism and integrity in the course of serving the community is another challenge. In the new political era, the public has higher expectations about the conduct and behaviour of public officials. They should be accountable to the public and they must make professional judgments without being influenced unduly by political pressure.
A3 In view of the rapid growth of China's civil society, I may spend more time visiting the mainland to explore the needs and difficulties faced by disadvantaged groups there and try to share my knowledge and experience about community organising with mainland grass-roots leaders. I hope that China can be more open about individual rights, freedom will be respected and civil society can be stronger.
Hong Kong is the place where I grew up and most of my family members are staying. Most of the memories of my life are here. The underprivileged that I serve are also staying here. As we are all in the same boat, I have not ever thought about living outside Hong Kong.
Allen Lee Peng-fei
Former National People's Congress deputy and former Liberal Party chairman
A1 When I observe what has happened in the past 15 years since 1997, I see the ability of the Hong Kong government to rule Hong Kong is weakening. China, instead of being at an arm's length, has more and more direct control of the internal matters of Hong Kong. The chief executive just cannot be his own man or his own person.
So, 15 years from now, I imagine that it will get worse. The people of Hong Kong also know that. When they have demonstrations now, many of them are going to the liaison office because the power is there, not at the government headquarters. There are officially two power centres and 'one country, two systems' is going to be just a slogan.
I also think the Article 23 national security law may be passed within the next 15 years. Even outgoing security minister Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said he regretted it had not been passed in his term. But I believe that the current laws in Hong Kong are enough to prevent threats to national security, and that officials feel they have the responsibility to legislate only because it is written in the Basic Law.
Hong Kong is also gradually becoming ungovernable. More and more people are taking to the streets, and more young people are dissatisfied with the inflated housing prices, and are frustrated. This is a major problem that the chief executive has to face.
Yet I hope to see the rule of law unchanged, and the same for the independent judiciary. I do not think anyone can change that in the next 15 years because, along with freedom of the press and expression, Hong Kong people will defend them with their lives. It is the Hong Kong way of life, and anyone who tries to shake that faith will fail.
A2 It is not just the housing problem and the Home Ownership Scheme. The most difficult challenge to tackle is the widening income gap between the rich and the poor. We have one of the biggest wealth gaps in the world. People are fed up with the policies that lean towards the rich and have made 'the fat cat fatter'.
Incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying is trying to correct that, and he will try hard to strike a balance. But I hope he will tell the public what he wants to do for the poor.
A3 Yes. I am not saying it jokingly, but Hong Kong is my home. I and my mentor Chung Sze-yuen care about Hong Kong. We have spent so much time serving Hong Kong. We were involved in the negotiations about Hong Kong's future, so as long as we breathe, we care about this place. I love the city for its lovely scenery, and the majority of the people have their hearts set in this place. Even though many of the post-80s and 90s generation are not satisfied with the status quo, with their feet and their heads they urge the government to do something. All these political activities show that Hong Kong people are a lovely people, who are not afraid of power, and will stand up against any injustice. Another thing is we are getting older. Where can we live other than Hong Kong?
Yet we do want changes. We want the true practice of a high level of autonomy, and we hope China will change into a democracy. These are tough tasks to achieve but even Premier Wen Jiabao says political reform is needed in China, so we hope it will be put into practice.
Helen Leung Hay-lin
A1 Like it or not, Hong Kong will merge with the mainland in all aspects at a quicker pace under the leadership of (chief executive-elect) Leung Chun-ying and his successor(s).
In an era of dynamic change, Hong Kong will probably remain the most flexible and open economy in China 15 years from now, but its importance will decline as other leading mainland cities will catch up.
I wish the following will remain the same 15 years from now:
1. The chaotic yet unique urban fabric of Wan Chai's street markets;
2. The ever-exciting and exotic Lan Kwai Fong;
3. The country parks in the New Territories and the outlying islands;
4. Loke Yew Hall at the University of Hong Kong;
5. Star Ferry, the Peak Tram and Hong Kong trams;
6. Hong Kong-style milk tea, egg tarts and wonton noodles;
7. The super-efficient airport and mass transit system;
8. Book Attic, Page One, South China Morning Post and HK Economic Journal.
A2 When I consider the major challenges that we are going to tackle, I feel a bit embarrassed to talk about the proverbial storms in our tiny teacup.
Most Hongkongers have in their blood the desire and ability to learn to think with multiple perspectives and a global vision despite the learning difficulties.
We should do our best to uphold these learning skills and qualities. There is a risk that our next generation, being raised in a prosperous environment, is losing this temperament bit by bit.
Furthermore, we should view ourselves as being in a bigger picture with China as the focus, but also remain international. This is the fine art of navigating between 'becoming' and 'not becoming'.
In the past decades, we have been practicing this art quite well largely because of the business sector's sensitivity and vision, underpinned by the hard-earned achievements of earlier generations. The legacy of these good old days may not last forever.
In the past few years, society has been calling for a more equal distribution of the city's wealth and prosperity. It is a fair request, but to our disappointment the government and the business sector have failed to take timely action.
They should shoulder a bigger share of social responsibility and the government should establish effective ways to let the city's wealth cascade down to society's needy and poor.
What has been most annoying in the past decade is the tedious and endless debating over trivial issues in the Legislative Council, which always led nowhere.
The blame lies with the pro-government establishment and the pan-democrats, and some of the lousy media.
I sincerely hope that the media will be more professional and socially responsible when creating headline news and to carry more informed and balanced views on important social issues.
A3 I will very likely choose to stay in Hong Kong for the next 15 years.
I am not trying to garland the city with flowers, but as an international city Hong Kong offers opportunities, efficiency and dynamism that are unique.
I am glad that my generation reaped the rewards of Hong Kong's prosperity in the last two decades, and we can embrace China, our motherland, from a distance.
I sincerely look forward to the day when the truth about the June 4 incident can be fully revealed. This will shed light not only on the lives of those people who were impacted by it, but also illuminate China's social and political history.
I take Hong Kong's handover seriously and I'm looking forward to witnessing a strong and happy motherland.
If I do migrate, it would probably be because of nuclear pollution, a major regional war, or any occurrences similar to the Cultural Revolution.
Michael Tien Puk-sun
A Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress and vice-chairman of the New People's Party
A1 Some things will endure here. Ours may not be a full democracy, but we can always count on having our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the rule of law. Together, they form the backbone of this modern international city. The protests and marches may be noisy and inconvenient, but the government must be in tune with the public mood. And when they are, they will knock the wind from the sails of the perennial protesters. I see Hong Kong as a society with a keen conscience towards defending the weak and the defenseless, as evidenced by the spontaneous massive outcry against the suspicious death of Li Wangyang , the June 4 activist. This is what is precious about our community, and this Hong Kong core value will never change.
A2 I don't have a crystal ball, and I don't have Solomon's wisdom. But I can broadly see Hong Kong's future for the next 15 years.
Our population is ageing fast. The current government, with its inaction over the past seven years, is unprepared to meet this challenge. With no long-term population policy, it lurched from one crisis to the next, including the influx of pregnant mainland women. It is directionless in immigration policy and care for the elderly and adjustments for education. Hong Kong will need more homes for the aged and fewer schools plus smaller classes for our next generation. We can't afford to do things piecemeal.
To our shame, since the handover, while our GDP has increased by 40 per cent, the family income of the lowest 10 per cent has gone down by 25 per cent and the cost of living is up 9 per cent, giving us the highest Gini coefficient among all OECD members, at .537. With our bulging surplus, the wealth gap has widened and worsened. [Donald] Tsang [Yam-kuen] stands accused of cosying up to the super-wealthy and tilting towards his fine-feathered friends. This government knows how to accumulate wealth but doesn't know how to reduce the wealth gap.
In governance, there is a serious structural defect. Post-handover, we continue to congratulate ourselves on having inherited the administrative officer system from the British, when the truth is that it is fundamentally flawed. Under this system, young government executives are rotated through different departments or portfolios every 18 months or so. This endless musical chairs compounds the problems of their lack of expertise and their lack of commitment. Trained as implementers with a short tenure, their goal is to avoid making mistakes or making waves. This revolving-door syndrome has left Hong Kong without long-term planning. Can Hong Kong afford these amateurs-on-wheels for the 21st century? We need committed experts to run our government, or we will be left in the dust by our regional rivals in the next 15 years.
A3 Hong Kong is my home. Right or wrong, this is my community. If things don't go well, I am here to fight to set them right. If things go swimmingly, there's all the more reason for me to stay where my heart belongs. Now I wish to share the long-hidden, lingering words of Deng Xiaoping that he was reputedly once heard to have uttered about Hong Kong. His prophetic words were: 'Hong Kong is guaranteed no change for 50 years, and hopefully no need for change after that.' By 2047, when 'one country two systems' has run its course, I will be 97 years old, still lucid enough to enjoy that delicious prospect of the rapidly changing mainland society finally catching up to little Hong Kong, China's conscience and model of development for so many years.
Joseph Wong Wing-ping
Former secretary for civil service
A1 Fifteen years from now, Hong Kong will still be the richest (in GDP per capita) city in China. Hong Kong people will still enjoy the highest level of freedom and protection of human rights compared with the 1.3 billion compatriots on the mainland. Through the continued implementation of a minimum wage and the concerted effort of the SAR government to address livelihood issues, the income disparity (measured by the Gini coefficient) will be narrowed. But Hong Kong's wealth will still be highly concentrated in a few conglomerates, except that the special political and economic privileges, real or perceived, associated with the large real estate developers will be removed.
If China becomes more democratic and the people on the mainland have access to a minimum level of rule of law (not rule by law interpreted by the Communist Party and its officials), and the large scale of official corruption (the most serious in recent Chinese history) can be controlled (impossible to address without a fundamental political reform which may threaten the present regime), Hong Kong will change for the better. If the reverse happens (which is equally likely), Hong Kong will be more like Shenzhen, albeit still several steps ahead because of the Basic Law.
My bet is there will be big change in China politically and economically in the next 15 years, perhaps sparked off by an economic downturn or an internal struggle for power. I also have confidence in a new generation of Hong Kong people safeguarding even more vigorously than their parents Hong Kong's core values of freedom, human rights and rule of law.
A2 The biggest challenge for the chief executive of the SAR government is to stand up and defend the freedoms and rights Hong Kong people enjoy and deserve under the Basic Law. From time to time, the powers in Beijing and Hong Kong may be tempted to persuade Hong Kong people to be more realistic or more patriotic and accept certain trade-offs between economic benefits and political aspirations. Apart from their own intrinsic values, political rights embedded in the rule of law and the freedom of expression have proven to be the pillars of Hong Kong's economic success. It would be a grave mistake and a disaster for Hong Kong if the SAR government follows the mainland or the Singapore model of governance (not to belittle the economic success of these two places).
The most immediate challenge facing the Hong Kong government in the next 15 years is the implementation of universal suffrage, first for electing the chief executive in 2017 and then for electing all members of the Legislative Council in 2020. Hong Kong people, particularly the younger generation, will not settle for anything less than a genuinely non-Beijing-controlled election or nomination process. This will test the commitment of C.Y. Leung and the Chinese leadership to give Hong Kong a democracy of its own. If this issue is not handled properly or sensitively by the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing, it will provoke serious social tension and plunge the Hong Kong government into a major political crisis.
A3 I was born in Hong Kong and I am grateful to this place and the people here for everything I receive and enjoy every day of my life. I will stay in Hong Kong 15 years from now and I hope more years afterwards. I will continue to speak up if necessary for what I believe is right and good for Hong Kong.
Paul Yip Kwok-wah
Special adviser to Tung Chee-hwa during his tenure as chief executive Chairman of the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute
A1 Fifteen years from now, Hong Kong's chief executive and Legislative Council members will be elected by universal suffrage. Despite this, people in Hong Kong will still work hard to preserve our core values: the rule of law, clean and transparent governance, democracy, human rights and freedom.
Tensions will probably remain between conservatives and progressives. However, the tensions should not be allowed to compromise Hong Kong's role in helping guide China's modernisation.
There are two aspects to this role. First, there is an economic aspect. Hong Kong's economy is still more developed than the mainland's and our experiences are still relevant. To contribute more to the country, Hong Kong should enhance its status as an international financial centre. But to achieve this, we have to preserve our core values.
Second, there is a cultural aspect. As Hong Kong continues to integrate with the mainland, there will be more communication between people here and there. In the future, the culture in Hong Kong and on the mainland may look more alike. However, for smooth integration, turbulence like the June 4th incident must not be allowed to occur. In 1989, when Hong Kong was still under British rule, the colonial administration acted as a buffer between Hong Kong and the mainland. Without such a buffer, turbulence on the mainland, if not handled properly, could turn into a crisis in Hong Kong.
In 15 years time, fast development in China will make its gross domestic product on par with that of the United States. China's strength will continue to grow, but whether political reforms can be carried out successfully remains to be seen. If reforms on the mainland fail, Hong Kong could become 'just another Chinese city'.
A2 A major challenge will be how Hong Kong positions itself in 15 years' time. People talk a lot about Hong Kong being an economic centre. I wouldn't say the economy is unimportant, but there is much more Hong Kong can contribute. Through 'one country, two systems', Hong Kong's experience in governance can be helpful to China's modernisation.
Hong Kong can play a bigger role than its economic one. If we position ourselves as a money centre, Hong Kong could become less relevant to the country's development in 15 years, as the mainland's economy is growing very fast. We need to be more than an economic hub. Maybe we can lead by example by doing even better in the realm of our core values.
Apart from possible external conflicts, internal struggles in Hong Kong are also a major challenge. We tend to view Hong Kong divided into two camps: the pro-establishment and the pan-democratic. However, recent developments suggest that there could be further divisions in both camps, which could make the situation more complicated. The internal struggles are expected to continue, but they should not be allowed to block the development of Hong Kong.
As for the economy, Hong Kong's challenge will be how we can smoothly integrate into the mainland's fast-growing economy. The world economy is expected to continue to experience uncertainty, and it looks like China will remain one of the few places that still enjoy a high GDP growth rate. The question is again about how Hong Kong can cash in on the rapid development of the mainland.
A3 Hong Kong is my home. I would like to live here as long as possible, and do not want to leave. The only thing that might influence my decision is my health.
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