Hong Kong's young and restless must keep their minds open in forging post-2047 future

Alice Wu calls on those who will inherit Hong Kong not to underestimate the force of change, both in speed and scope. Thus, they must reject absolutism and remain willing to engage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 9:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 9:00am

The storms in a teacup that have erupted since the reform veto do make an interesting brew. But let's not forget that they are also impediments to moving forward. Political storms come and go, and Hong Kong must stay on course.

What is our course exactly? As we prepare to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the handover on July 1, we must know that we're also counting down the remaining 32 years of our 50 years of promised "unchange".

What lies beyond 2047? Nothing is for certain, except maybe one thing: Hong Kong Disneyland, which has a 100-year land lease. As we approach this "deadline", we should be reminded of what Scholarism's Joshua Wong Chi-fung wrote in The New York Times last year: that "the day will come when we decide your future". And it will do us a lot of good now to know - and accept - that the day will arrive sooner rather than later.

History has given today's generation of young people a momentous task. Those in their late teens and 20s will be in their prime, at the height of their careers, heads of the families and calling the shots. They will be playing an active role in determining what comes after "one country, two systems". Where Wong may be wrong in sounding his "threat" to the current ruling class is simply that many of them may well not be around by then.

Fortunately, when we look into the future, we have history as our guide. Informal discussions and negotiations for the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed on December 19, 1984, began in the spring of 1979, 18 years before 1997, with then colonial governor Murray MacLehose's Beijing trip. MacLehose made the trip because of the increasing levels of anxiety about Hong Kong's future, post 1997. And these worries were practical ones too, like what happens to future land leases.

Today, our young aspiring homeowners will not only need to worry about home prices, they will also need to think about how mortgages that extend beyond 2047 will work. It's not too soon to begin thinking about it.

It would be grotesquely naive to assume that these 50 years of "no change" means this city's and our nation's development - whether economically, socially or politically - will remain unchanged.

When I was younger, the world was obsessed with China's entry into the World Trade Organisation. One of my most unforgettable experiences was assisting in an interview with Charlene Barshefsky, the United States' top trade negotiator from 1997 to 2001, and listening to her converse with my professor on easing China into the WTO.

The truth is, I would have never imagined, back in 1999, that we would today be talking about the formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

And this is what I would like to tell our young people of today, our true stakeholders of tomorrow: never shut yourselves up in close-mindedness. The world - your world - will be changing at a mind-spinning rate. Navigate through the terrain of the future not with fear, anger or hate. What will keep you safe from storms will be how responsive you are to the world around you, and how you keep your minds open to different perspectives and possibilities.

You're too young to fret, and there is no reason to do so, as long as you're not set in absolutism. Reject the shortsightedness of the schoolchildren we have in today's politicians, be sceptical of any one who insists on singular world views, beware of fanatics who insist on any singular ideology.

No one has a crystal ball to tell us what the world will become in 2047. History is yours to make. Engagement and communication will give us a better chance in forging a better tomorrow.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA