Rulers' lack of humility holds back Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 2:30am

The last week of June saw the Snowden affair, complaints about the president of Lingnan University, and Academy for Performing Arts students protesting to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on universal suffrage at their graduation ceremony.

These have something in common. And Bernard Chan ("Society's rising intolerance leaves little room for debate", June 28) poses the right question when he asks if the older generation is "setting a poor example".

"The older generation", aka "those in power", refuse to listen or respond to those they disagree with, and avoid debating problems, which actually need discussion in order for them to be resolved satisfactorily.

Young people have an especially strong sense of fair play. Even politicians like to feel they are being taken seriously.

Almost everyone can accept that decisions are not always taken in line with their own views - provided the process is fair.

However, in Hong Kong, the near-universal view is that the process is not fair. And so some people, not bad people, feel civil disobedience is the only way forward.

Others engage in damaging filibusters. Others again treat the chief executive with public disrespect.

All decaying regimes make similar mistakes - Margaret Thatcher excluded those who were not "one of us"; Tung Chee-hwa refused to hear the public on Article 23; Mr Leung denied the authorities knew Edward Snowden, or that he had abused his position.

But attempts to escape reality do no good. You forfeit recognition and support, domestic or foreign, and eventually drive people to antisocial action, if you:

  • Run an "executive-led" government by acting as a Bourbon king;
  • Treat Legco as a bunch of childish morons; and
  • Tell the world Hong Kong cannot stop Edward Snowden leaving Hong Kong (Hong Kong, which in 2004 sent Sami-al-Saadi, who had committed no crime, to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's torturers, with no court hearing).

The solution is simple, but it requires an unlikely modesty. Do not believe you are always right. Listen to facts. Avoid fake consultations - no one is fooled any more.

Reach out to your fellow citizens and treat them with respect. Above all, stop setting a bad example. True, you may not get your own way. But accepting that fact is how political and social relationships work best in a mature body politic.

The English ruling class had the genius to give, rather than coerce, in the Great Reform Act of 1832, and economic prosperity followed.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels