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Column
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 3:54am

If Beijing want to win friends in Hong Kong, they could clean up the air

Forget patriotic lessons, the gents up north could win respect by cutting HK emissions and moving marathon to the city centre

BIO

Tim Noonan has been crafting uniquely provocative columns for the SCMP and SMP for more than a decade. A native of Canada, he has over 20 years’ experience in Asia and has been a regular contributor to a number of prominent publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Independent.
 

It's been such a contentious spell around here recently that I feel compelled to have a quick word with my good friends up in Beijing. Gents, I know you have a tough job taking care of 1.3 billion people, and while I certainly can't say I approve of everything you do, there are a few things I do approve of. I just need a moment or two to come up with them. In the meantime, I have a proposition for you that should help engender the love and respect you so desperately desire from the people of Hong Kong.

The best news is that it's a sporting proposition and I know how patriotic you guys get over your sport.

But first, whose idea was this forced implementation of a "moral and national" education of mainland history for the people of Hong Kong that conveniently omits a couple of particularly revolting incidents like the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square?

Guys, no matter what your sycophants on the ground here may tell you, you can't force the people of Hong Kong to like you. The genie is out of the bottle and it ain't going back in. We have a relatively free press around here and as such a free mind, so when thousands took to the streets over the past few weeks to protest, it could not have been a shock.

Honestly, why not just roll the tanks through the middle of town because it would probably be less threatening than the mandatory teaching of a "moral and national" education? Naturally the outrage was swift and unified, so your boy here decided to shelve national education for now. But here is what you must know; since the people of Hong Kong are the only ones in China who are allowed to publicly protest, they seem to have adopted this fiduciary right to speak up for their brothers and sisters on the mainland who cannot.

Now what could possibly be more patriotic than that? They have a lot of love for the country, just not for the people who run it. But all that could change in a heartbeat and not just for Hong Kong but also for the world in general, which is growing increasingly nervous over your economic and military might. Why not make a profound and significant difference in a completely unthreatening and benign manner?

The way to Hong Kong people's hearts is through their lungs. We have a first-world economy and third-world air, which is completely unacceptable.

Last year the Hong Kong government had a budget surplus of close to US$10 billion to go along with accumulated reserves of US$300 billion.

You think with that kind of money on hand we would be able to breathe the air around here. But no, because at Hong Kong's core we have an odious property cartel that is greed personified. There is, according to my friend Mike Kilburn at Civic Exchange, "a moral failure" among the city's elite to clean the air.

This is where you come in, Beijing. You guys announce that you are going to take US$1 billion out of the swelling reserves to pay for the mandatory change over to catalytic converters on every single bus, mini bus and light goods delivery vehicle - the primary source of urban spew - and then sit back as the sky gets bluer and the streets get truer.

Now the all-important sporting angle comes in when you decide that you need to advertise this thing. Call it the "China Clean Air Initiative," not Hong Kong - call it China because you are the cats responsible for this. You then make the long overdue move to bring the Hong Kong marathon out of the boondocks and highways of western Kowloon and stick it smack dab in the middle of the city. Tokyo and New York can find a way to run a race through the heart of the city but we can't? Get over yourselves for one Sunday morning a year Hong Kong and take a detour. One of the most stunning urban vistas in the world with palatable air and blue skies deserves to be front row centre. Now sell this thing hard, Beijing. World-class athletes can run through the city so there should be no worries about walking. Come breathe our fresh air and why not do a little shopping while you're here.

I don't see a single possible downside to this thing and even though it's my idea, I'm happy to let the politicians and property boys take credit for it. So Beijing, if you want to force an education on the people here, start with a clean air education. Believe me, the world will take notice. And, most importantly, the people of Hong Kong will be getting a "moral and national" education they will never forget.

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