• Sun
  • Jul 27, 2014
  • Updated: 12:46am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 9:50pm

Hong Kong must give up the ghost of its faded past

Peter Kammerer says a disturbing attitude in Hong Kong to cling to its past, rejecting change, will only see the city fade into irrelevance

BIO

Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  
 

The cocoon that is Hong Kong can sometimes be so cosy that we forget to take notice of what is happening elsewhere. While to the north, cities are being transformed, ours is wavering on the brink of being locked in a time warp. A fervent desire to hang on to what we have, physical and otherwise, means we are in danger of being left in the dust. Old-fashioned thinking is holding us back.

Think Macau before 2001, when the monopoly on the gaming industry held by Stanley Ho Hung- sun ended with the opening of the market to new licence-holders. A sleepy backwater that was pleasant to visit, but going nowhere, was instantly given a bright future. It has since been galloping forward.

There are social problems that need to be fixed and the economy has to be broadened beyond gambling. Overall, though, Macau has exploited its potential for all it's worth. Those oases of curiosity can still be found and many have been preserved. Residents have moved beyond the past, but have also lovingly retained it in some two dozen Chinese and Portuguese buildings and sites that comprise the Unesco World Heritage-listed historic centre.

Hong Kong is also clinging onto its colonial past, but to its detriment. Since the return to China in 1997, there has been a noticeable resistance to change. The mentality is that our differences from the mainland are our selling point; letting them be eroded is to lose our advantage. Judicial independence, free speech and press freedom are held up most, but our list of "must haves" has grown long and complex.

The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club's refusal to change its name is among them. Colonial-era Hong Kong flags appearing at protests are another sign. But the rot was most evident when attempts to tear down the Star Ferry and Queen's piers in 2006 and 2007 were met with unruly protests. Since then, any old building or site, no matter how unremarkable, is fair game.

I'm not espousing obliterating the past - merely suggesting that we keep only what is significant. But that has to extend beyond the physical, to laws, government policies and attitudes. Civil servants and lawmakers should take particular note.

The small-house policy in the New Territories is one such dinosaur that has to go. So, too, does the belief that the property and business cartels have the right to keep their monopolies. Allowing the civil service to be a place of privilege, overstaffed and bloated with fiefdoms that do not co-operate, is wasting finances and resources. The government's view of land as a revenue earner rather than a resource for public good is also past its use-by date.

There are many, many more. But it is our attitude towards the mainland and its citizens that is perhaps most troubling. While the rest of the world is open to their tourism and business, we are intent on capping numbers and on protectionism. Remember, these are countrymen, people with pockets bulging to do business in our shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and auction houses. There are even those among us who would prefer they stay at home, just as before July 1, 1997.

We don't have to go far to see what will happen if this mentality continues. Just look to the Macau of old, so quiet and peaceful - and going nowhere, fast.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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This article is now closed to comments

triplefives
There is nothing of substance in this article. The author mentions change but without any concrete ideas. Change for the sake for change is not change.
ssslmcs01
Agreed
johnyuan
To sss....
.
Agreed.
ling2777
Well, it is Hong Kong. You can have as many different view as the number of people you asked. Most important is that we don't forget mutual respect when expressing our view.
likingming
Yes, Changes from the fathomless bottoms of the yr 2003 (when the unemployment rate was at 8%) to the present yr with full employment.
Thanks the mainland for the CEPA and mainlanders tourists !
ssslmcs01
Making such comments is your right in a free society but supporting or explaining your opinion with substantial details is a requirement. How has CEPA or mainland tourists benefited the average Hong Kong citizen? Without these details your point is meaningless.
I pose a few questions to you, how much has the cost of housing increased in Hong Kong over the last 12 years compared to earnings? (of course the cost of real estate effects the cost of everything else such as daily necessities like food) Most of the increase in the cost of living over the years can be attributed to the flood of cash from the mainlanders, much of it from questionable sources.
Name one single benefit Hong Kong has gotten from CEPA?
lui.thw@gmail.com
I would argue that although the influx of mainlanders and their cash have caused problems for us, the bulk of the problem is home grown. Take the most acute problem of housing for instance, the most significant factor that caused the problem was the reduced supply of new land and housing since 2003. Do you remember the ambitious housing policy of Tung Chee Hwa to build 85000 flats every year? This policy was scrapped altogether when the housing market crashed due to SARS, and many homeowners went into negative equity. The housing supply was reduced to just over 20000 for the next 10 years as a result. If the government did not buckle under popular pressure at the time, we would not see such high house prices today. If the market forces driven by supply and demand does not have upward pressure on housing, there would be no opportunities for speculators to profit, and we would not see them today. Hence, they are not the primary targets to blame.
ssslmcs01
@likingming
Just as I though an empty tin. You are good at making noise but don't have any substance.
sudo rm -f cy
"A sleepy backwater that was pleasant to visit, but going nowhere, was instantly given a bright future. It has since been galloping forward."
Yes, Macau may be making people like Stanley Ho very rich now, but at the expense of being completely uninhabitable for actual Macanese.
syracuse37
And creating mainly low paid jobs. Local Macanese didn't benefit much casino did well said. Its similar to HK some hotels and restaurant owner make money from tourist, but most of the jobs as hotel clerk, waitress and cleaning lady doesn't make Hog Kong that much richer. The real future for Hong Kong is to continue to develop its financial and investment sector, as well as develop some high end industry. I am sure HK can stand up to this task for the reasons that it has its own culture and refused to let it go and rightly so.

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