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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 12:46am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Is our Hong Kong identity up to speed?

Lau Nai-keung cautions against remaining cool to nation's development

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 3:53am

On December 26, the 2,298-kilometre high-speed railway between Beijing and Guangzhou became operational. Trains will run at an average speed of 300km/h, cutting travel time to about eight hours from the current 24 or so.

There has been much debate about whether China's high-speed rail investments have been economically sound. In order to repay large construction debt loads, significant revenue is required from fares, subsidies, and/or other sources of income, such as advertising and property development.

Despite impressive passenger figures, virtually every completed line of the railway has incurred losses in its first years of operation.

The maths is even more complicated if we take into account the externalities. On the one hand, people will benefit from the shorter travelling time and the development of technological capacity, not to mention the impact of the government spending on employment; on the other hand, the project carries social and environmental costs, and the speed of development may also bring risks.

One online comment captures the contradictions involved: "Air travel has been tested worldwide for a couple of generations, and every fatal crash has taught the industry deep lessons. But these high-speed railways are running on uncharted territory, safety-wise, not to mention substandard concrete".

"Uncharted territory" is inherently unsafe. And that's exactly why the courage to explore it should have been met with applause. Instead, we are faced with the China-bashing now in fashion.

This newspaper sent a reporter and photographer on the debut ride to give readers real-time coverage. "Food takes back seat on high-speed railway", read the headline of the article. The focus was more on the long queues for lunch and the fact that supplies of cupcakes had run out, and chewing gum was left on the windowsill of the train.

Yet there were hundreds of mainland Chinese passengers who were thrilled to have been able to take part in this historic moment (and who were obviously not overly concerned about "uncharted territory, safety-wise" and "substandard concrete").

The reporter's views are very representative of those of "mainstream" Hongkongers, who seem determined to remain outsiders.

And that brings me to identity politics in Hong Kong. Identification with a group sits uneasily with the basic principles of equality and justice that underlie liberal democracies. This is because the individual is the basis on which democracies are founded. A society with a strong group identity tends to put the group ahead of the individual.

Can a society function entirely without group identities? It isn't realistic to think a person's politics is not influenced by the groups with which he or she identifies. Group identities serve a number of important social purposes. They provide people with a more secure sense of self, and a sense of social belonging.

Clearly, identity politics cannot be eradicated. There is nothing inherently good or bad about it, but we have to scrutinise what each identity actually represents.

A Hongkonger can be a person from Hong Kong who is proactive, progressive and positive towards the city and the nation's development. He or she can be a person who has in-depth knowledge of both the East and West, and brings the best of both worlds together. When differences between the cultures emerge, that person can be a moderator delivering fair and ingenious solutions to all parties involved.

Or, a Hongkonger can be fixated on cupcakes.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development


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It should be remembered that Hong Kong has had a high speed railway from the airport to Kowloon since 1998 though it seems be be getting slower and slower with each added train to Tung Chung. There weren't any safety concerns during or after the airport railway was completed. Hong Kong certainly has the expertise to build high speed railways safely and efficiently. Yet, that expertise was not offered to or used by the mainland. That was a missed opportunity. As far as the mainland high speed railways are concerned, I do have concerns that the technology has been pushed beyond safe limits and that does need to be reported on. The mainland media has already pointed out the finer, positive points of the high speed railway. Hong Kong media should be pointing out problems with service on the railway. Hong Kong riders also need to be able to weigh the risks before traveling on the railways, however small that they may be. If Hong Kong media stops reporting openly and freely, then I start to worry. I am a bit concerned about this editorial.
The idea that 'HK identity' should be based on 'speed'? This ideological comment would replace one form of identity with another - HK identity with nationalism - a particular form of CCP-guided nationalism - a form of identity that eliminates free speech.
Hong Kong infrastructure is excellent - based on efficiency, sound budget and dependability. Not endless budget, speed for its own sake, and corruption. Even China's own scholars have identified the high-speed rail as another 'we're important' project.
It's obvious that the CCP propaganda machine is alive an well in Hong Kong - all about trying to make HK people feel as though they are losing their 'can do' ethic. It's pure discourse, propagandistic discourse.
The location of the XRL at the cultural center on the harbourfront is shameful.
And this editor is not pro-Beijing?
A Hongkonger can also be a person who believes that we are entitled to universal suffrage and China shouldn't meddle in Hong Kong's internal affairs. He or she can also be a person who feels Hong Kong enjoyed better governance during her colonial era and believes that we can do better if we are allowed to elect our own Chief Executive instead of having him/her "selected" for us. There are many of these Hongkongers and their views and wishes are no cupcake matter.
Mr. Lau talks of China's high speed rail system as if it were the first of its kind in the world. Has Mr. Lau perhaps forgotten to mention France's TGV, or Japan's Shinkensen trains? High speed rail is far from "unchartered territory". We've had plenty of experience with various train systems. China itself has far more rail capacity than most countries.
This high speed rail program is recognized even on the mainland as being corrupt. An accident has occured - which by itself is understandable. But why is China not being transparent about it? Instead of simply firing officials left, right, and centre, why is it not taking this opportunity to analyze what happened, and react in a mature, responsible way?
Mr. Lau also needs to look deeper than just cupcakes being few in number. Perhaps he should begin to think why it is so. Late food indicates an undercapacity to serve the passengers, "impressive in number". Did he read the article? It mentioned a single food serving car, which indicates an actual failure of the railway company to provide an adequate service. It's journalism: the author of the piece simply provided a concrete example of its shortfalls.
I agree it's time for Hongkongers to look past China's age of communism and consider our own arrogance. But perhaps it is also time for Mr. Lau to consider that Hongkongers want to help China in its many endeavours. After all, you learn from your mistakes, don't you?
"There is nothing inherently good or bad"
That's ridiculous and jealous-like to nitpick everything 'made in China'
Hey! We're Hongkongers! We aspire to becoming a western liberal democracy, which is a cure-all, isn't it?
The author Mr. Lau gives a timely warning to those of us fixated on China-bashing. But it did not go far enough to point out that when the high-speed rail system is complete and running throughout the huge continent, Hong Kong’s tiny section will only be done earliest 2015. This is symptomatic to the diverging development between China and Hong Kong since 1997. Hong Kong is not only left behind by China’s fast-pace industrialization, we have forgotten what the whole world has come to realize, that China will come to dominate world business and development through this century, and fixating on China-bashing will mean opportunities foregone in the long run.


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