Revive Hong Kong's can-do spirit

Alice Wu calls for an end to the 'us vs them' bickering so Hong Kong can rediscover the spirit that made it a land of the possible

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:50pm

This year has turned out to be pretty brutal for Hong Kong. There's been a lot of excitement, but the politics has been ugly. That's what comes of having not just one but two major elections in a year. Upping the ante has done a lot of damage, leaving Hong Kong a little off balance, and its residents struggling over their sense of identity, community and place. Anger seems to permeate our daily lives. Discontent and frustration drive politics, leaving the community more polarised than ever.

Everywhere we turn, there are political fights, over who we are (Hongkonger vs Chinese), what we should do about everything (maternity wards, housing, funding for the English Schools Foundation), and where the city is heading (independence vs oblivion). Debates are normal, except that these carry a distinctive "us vs them" undercurrent. And these "debates", especially those in the legislature, have become counter-intuitive: endless squabbles that yield zero solutions.

The art of politics - compromise - has been lost. Obstructionist politics has taken the city and its residents hostage: 2012 is turning out to be a year of high-strung rhetoric with very little progress.

When the current chief executive ran for the office, there was a lot of talk about "change". But as the clock has ticked and the months have passed, we seem to be in the exact same political rut.

We have lost our way. And all the fights and anguish have destroyed the community's soul, rubbing away residents' sense of self and place. We have lost sight of what made this city great - our energy, vitality and opportunities.

People used to come to Hong Kong to get things done and to do what wasn't possible elsewhere. Once famous for our cutthroat, no-nonsense efficiency, how does our current politics measure up? Never mind making the impossible possible; we have made the possible impossible (think old-age allowance).

We once prospered because Hong Kong was the place to go for people to start anew and for those in search of a better life. Past generations risked their lives to get to this land of opportunity. But today we can only reminisce about how we went from a tiny fishing village to a bustling metropolis. This is something to be proud of, but we desperately need new material for our city's narrative. Demanding only entitlements, closing our borders, and attempting to insulate ourselves from the world - including the mainland - isn't going to inject vitality into the city.

Hong Kong's past successes weren't happy accidents. They were the result of the hard work of the people who made this city their home, where conflicts have always been present, but people have made things work in spite of them.

Whether the problem now is the tainted political process, the incompetence of governments past and present, our inability to rise above political theatrics, or all of the above, we have to dig deep and rediscover the city's soul. It will take the will of every individual to make Hong Kong great again. And it begins with a demand that our legislators and administrators stop playing politics and get back to finding solutions and getting results.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA