A test of HK's ability to adapt

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am


In recent weeks, in one event after another, diverse groups of Hong Kong citizens - whether responding to rallying cries in the blogosphere or fighting for diminishing resources - have staged mass protests to vent their anger at what they perceive as encroachment by mainland Chinese on their rights and benefits.

Just before the Lunar New Year, there was the pitiable sight of hundreds of pregnant local women marching in the rain to the new government complex at Tamar to demonstrate their anger at the shortage of medical and health care services for local mothers-to-be, as a result of competition from mainland women.

Their protest was followed by a smaller-scale one staged by the mainland wives of Hong Kong husbands, who are denied public hospital services at affordable prices even though they have a much stronger connection with Hong Kong than mainland visitors giving birth here.

A more unusual protest was the picket lines formed spontaneously by throngs of Hong Kong residents outside the Dolce & Gabbana store on Canton Road, the high-end shopping area in Tsim Sha Tsui which has become the Mecca of mainland tourists with a seemingly insatiable hunger for luxury goods.

D&G touched a raw nerve with Hong Kong people by banning locals from taking pictures of their fancy garments on display.

In an even more disconcerting turn of events, videos showing altercations between Hong Kong citizens and mainland tourists eating in a MTR train, against the rules, sparked a no-holds-barred condemnation by Kong Qingdong, a professor of Peking University, who said that 'many Hong Kong people are bastards, dogs and thieves' and 'the running dogs of the British'.

It is not clear to what extent Kong's views are representative of broad sentiments towards Hong Kong on the mainland. But, not surprisingly, Kong's vituperative outburst unleashed a war of words in the blogosphere, and another protest at the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, the constant reminder of Beijing's power and sovereignty over Hong Kong.

If mainland Chinese and their far less numerous Hong Kong cousins appear to be on a collision course, the reasons are not hard to surmise.

On a practical level, the onslaught of pregnant mainlanders seeking the right of abode for their children - with all that this implies in terms of competition for hospital beds, maternity and child-care services, school places and housing in residential areas with good schools - has undeniably perturbed the delicate balance between the supply and demand of scarce resources in a city well known for its lack of space.

Yet the problem runs deeper than the competition for resources, which on its own would pose a critical threat to the continued survival of any society. The problem is a much more fundamental one, connected to the competing values, priorities, habits and practices of different factions or groups within a society.

Hong Kong's ability to satisfactorily resolve this conflict - between high-spending mainland tourists and newly humbled Hongkongers smarting from the reality of depending on their 'country bumpkin' cousins for their livelihood; between newly rich mainlanders seeking the right of abode in Hong Kong for their offspring and locals who fret at the inroads into their benefits; and between mainlanders who scoff at Hongkongers' weak sense of national identity, and the unapologetically irreverent locals - puts to severe test Hong Kong's ability to sustain 'one country, two systems'.

Again, the logical place where this problem should be laid - and a solution found - is at the doorstep of Hong Kong's highest leaders, who have not shown any earnest desire to improve the condition of the people or come to grips with what is really going on in our society.

As implementers of 'one country, two systems', our leaders, and those who aspire to become the next chief executive, have a duty to learn from the people the real nature of the problems, and seek to improve the human condition by introducing what leadership scholars call 'adaptive' change - a change in the people's values, habits, priorities and mindsets, to adjust to the new reality.

In the case of Hong Kong, if 'one country, two systems' is to continue to succeed, our leaders need to get the people to accept that every faction in a society has a different history and a different story that captures its dreams, fears, hopes and aspirations.

If any society encompassing different factions attached to different values, habits and priorities is to become truly harmonious, the differences, and at times conflicts, need to be managed, the resource problems effectively dealt with, and a new, broader social system brought into being so that the diverse groups can prosper as a whole.

Yet, so far, our leaders have been silent on the nature of these systemic problems confronting our society, and ineffective measures have been put in place to address the resource problems. Our candidates for the city's top post have, separately but predictably, made some populist, pro-Hong Kong noises, but have fallen short of confronting the reality and putting forward real solutions.

Stress points are appearing in our society as our tiny but resilient community faces an unprecedented, massive exogenous challenge in the form of all that our mainland brethren represent. Our leaders need a wake-up call before these stress points become breaking points.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party