Hong Kong’s dilemma: as population ages, our politics becomes more infantile
Unless our politics matures, literally to age with experience, we will face irreversible decline
Here are some interesting and disturbing facts about Hong Kong. Our economy and society are ageing, but our city’s politics is getting younger. We are giving “the generation gap” a whole new meaning, with all the societal and political problems that come with it.
According to a projection by the Census and Statistics Department, more than 30 per cent of our population – or one in three people – will be aged 65 or older by 2041. In 2003, only 12 per cent were older than 65.
This is a scary thought, because it implies other negative trends that are extremely difficult to reverse. Among these are a shrinking labour force, and declining economic growth and productivity.
Many developed economies are facing similar problems. Chief among them is Japan, a country where adult diapers outsell the baby varieties. Hong Kong has been luckier than many such economies, which have been experiencing a productivity slump since the start of this century. Hong Kong’s productivity has not only been maintained since the 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty, but actually picked up slightly for a few years.
That’s testimony to our resilience and diligence, despite unfavourable wage and working conditions and an inadequate social safety net. But however tough our workforce, it cannot reverse – at most it can slow down – the adverse population and economic trends working against us.
There are possible ways to address such declines. Among these are immigration from the mainland and further economic integration with it. While more immigrants may come from overseas, the majority must necessarily come from the mainland. And while we may diversify our economy, trade and business with the mainland must remain dominant. Geography alone dictates these invariants. Yet, all these have been rejected – unrealistically – by a vocal minority.
Such resentments and rejection have been the driving force behind our increasingly youthful and immoderate politics.
The average age of our new legislature has, for the first time, dropped below 50. Student activism has reached all our universities. Even local schools, hitherto apolitical, have been radicalised. Of the more than 500 secondary schools in the city, about 10 per cent now have a localist chapter advocating varying degrees of autonomy or independence.
Unless our politics matures, literally to age with experience, we will face irreversible decline.