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Hong Kong's disaffected youth

Youth must be fully engaged in society

Critics see the jailing of three activists as worsening the disenchantment of youth, and the government must act to address the concerns and protect the interests of the younger generations

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 August, 2017, 1:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 12:48pm

Three young Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were handed jail sentences last week for their illegal actions, not their beliefs. But as they were leaders of a movement that has been driven by students and under-30s, the tougher sentences that had been sought by the Department of Justice have also been viewed by some as an affront to the hopes and aspirations of younger generations. Top officials have since been at pains to reassure, pledging that the government’s youth policies are unchanged. There has to be a broadening and strengthening of that engagement.

The trio, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, 20, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, 24, and Alex Chow Yong-kang, 27, perfectly fit the demographic of Hong Kong’s population that has in recent years been expressing pessimism about the future. High among their worries are economic opportunities, job mobility, widening inequality and unaffordable home prices. Having a greater say in their destiny through a political voice was seen by some as a solution, and the student leaders seized on that to push an agenda centred on protest and occupation of public spaces. The trio’s involvement in clashes at the government headquarters in Admiralty in 2014, a precursor to the 79-day Occupy stand-off that began later that year, led to their jail sentences of between six and eight months.

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Breaking the law is no way to bring about change. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung have rightly defended the decision by three judges in the face of criticism by foreign media and after a protest in support of the three by tens of thousands of people at the weekend. But there has also been a need to answer critics who say that the jailings have worsened the deficit in trust between disenchanted youth and the authorities. The city’s top two officials have understandably reiterated the government’s commitment to involving young people in policymaking. Lam took office last month having promised to help young people attain their potential. Cheung has said there were plans to appoint between 20 and 30 young people as advisers to the Central Policy Unit, the government’s think tank. In a further move to heal divisions, he also announced that the focus of the 2014 protests, the forecourt in front of the government headquarters popularly known as Civic Square, would be reopened for public use after management issues had been worked out.

Most young citizens are sensible and practical. They are willing to work hard and have a passion to succeed. But they also need the help of the government to promote and protect their interests and ease social and political concerns. Lam has set the right course and has to push resolutely forward with her youth policies.