An all-or-nothing attitude harms HK

Peter Kammerer says Hong Kong must transcend the distrust fostered by its divisive politics to rebuild its social contract

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 7:19am

Hong Kong's famous get-up-and-go is fast getting up and going. Society has become so politically polarised and fragmented that important decisions are not being made by authorities. We should be rising to the challenge of other cities stealing our thunder, but are instead damagingly deferring what needs to be done. The longer the clock stands still, the worse our circumstances become.

Outsiders may question such a sentiment. They marvel at the speed with which a patch of dirt is turned into a skyscraper. But there is a yawning gap between government decision-making and the accomplishments of private construction firms. A decade or more often passes before an idea becomes reality.

Our heavily polluted air and lack of a meaningful household recycling policy are the most visible by-products. The West Kowloon arts hub and development of the former Kai Tak airport have been more than a decade in the making and years will yet pass before they are completed. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's obstinacy and climbdown on national education is the latest example; instead of our children being able to learn about contemporary China objectively and critically, they are now most likely to either get a twisted view or none at all.

Following the Legislative Council election, matters are going to get worse. The "them-and-us" mentality has become so pervasive that Legco is going to be peppered with more radicals and fewer moderates. Meanwhile, the cry is getting louder on a range of complaints, from affordable housing to reasonable pay and working conditions.

Society should typically have a majority with middle-ground views. Hong Kong certainly seemed to have, until pro-Beijing forces stepped up their divide-and-conquer ways. It is partly the reason for the splintering of the pan-democratic camp and falling support for its major component parties. Young voters, faced with choosing political hopefuls promising progress or old faces with a history of being unable to agree even with those who are like-minded, turn to those most likely to get the job done, regardless of how extreme the methods may be.

Radical views are not confined to the legislature. Society is increasingly being split into pro- and anti-Beijing sides - with ever fewer in between - who either like or loathe mainland tourists, produce, manufactured products, companies and individuals. In the absence of transparency, suspicions and doubts fester.

How many times have we heard that it is an "open secret" that Beijing is meddling in this or that in politics? That is the crux of the problem - as long as there is secrecy and a lack of explanation, distrust will grow and sides will be taken in the name of perceived benefit. "One country, two systems" or not, it is inevitable that each day will bring greater mainland integration. If Hong Kong is to develop healthily, authorities have to be honest and open.

Success lies in ensuring we have a pluralistic society. We have to accept people with a wide range of backgrounds and political opinions. Only by working together can we meet our challenges.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post