Politics aside, Hong Kong needs to rebuild society

Paul Yip says there are too many urgent social problems at hand for the community to remain caught in a self-interested game of chicken. All sides must compromise

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 2:43pm

All signs point to the electoral reform package being voted down in the Legislative Council. Any other hopes are just poor judgment. Was the outcome unavoidable? The hardline strategy of non-negotiation by the mainland government has clearly not produced desirable results. If anything, it has done the opposite. Polls also show that all the promotional efforts by Hong Kong government officials have been fruitless. In fact, they have widened polarisation in the community. It seems clear we will miss the opportunity to elect the chief executive by "one man, one vote".

The community's resources and goodwill have been consumed by political reform, without success. Perhaps it is time to take a break from politics and rethink how to rebuild our community. Can we genuinely work hard to improve livelihood issues?

During a recent visit to Sham Shui Po, one of the more deprived districts in Hong Kong, with more poor older adults, new migrants and unemployed citizens than most other districts, it was distressing to see so many street sleepers in an affluent city. Some were not elderly; they were young and simply could not afford private rental housing. They held jobs during the day.

How can we respond effectively to people's housing needs, especially the most vulnerable in the community? What about the not inconsequential number of students with special education needs? They desperately need support to learn to care for themselves. Meanwhile, support for the carers is inadequate; some parents are exhausted and burnt out. There are many urgent issues to deal with. Can we devote as much energy as we've spent on political reform to rebuilding a caring society?

If the central government wishes to see a more harmonious Hong Kong, it needs to re-evaluate its hardline approach. When it pushes too hard, it ends up hardening the opposition as well. This makes a consensus harder to reach, and conflict more likely.

The recent burning of a copy of the Basic Law during the June 4 vigil is a warning that the younger generation is heading down a dangerous path that could undermine the continued success of "one country, two systems". Young people's voices should be heard. The government needs to be firm but should be supportive and reflective as well.

The words of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who recently met President Xi Jinping in Beijing, provide food for thought for Hong Kong. Sun Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate, once said: "If you want to bring an end to a long-standing conflict, you have to be prepared to compromise." Indeed, she has adopted a pragmatic approach to building up trust between Myanmar and China for the well-being of her people. For its part, China is also keen to establish ties with the popular political figure, despite her differing views on democratic reform.

Back in Hong Kong, this type of pragmatic engagement is exactly what is missing between the government and the pan-democratic camp. We don't have to like each other but we have to work together for the sake of the community. Why is the election reform proposal out for the count? There has been no compromise. Why is our society in such a confrontational mode? No compromise.

To make matters worse, many take the stance not because of their principles but to protect their own self-interests.

It is not difficult to see that Hong Kong is falling behind many of its neighbours.

The Hong Kong government cannot improve its effectiveness and legitimacy by isolating the pan-democrats. Likewise, the pan-democratic camp can regain the support of the people only by being constructive.

For a start, the government must introduce more exchanges between the various sectors in society. At the same time, the pan-democratic legislators should give the community a break from politics and genuinely engage the government to work out some ways to mitigate our social problems and improve the well-being of the population.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong