Appreciate this: Hong Kong's challenge is to restore confidence or face a brain drain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 2:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 2:28am

Around this time last year, Hong Kong's busiest streets were still occupied by protesters fighting for universal suffrage. Although the 79-day Occupy movement later ended without major chaos or violence, it did not bring us closer to democracy; the community remains polarised to the extent that it appears to be mired in a quandary. The problems are recognised by the government.

Announcing the "Appreciate Hong Kong" campaign, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said many people were worried about the stalemate. Some might even emigrate if nothing was done, she said.

The campaign is the first attempt to rebuild Hong Kong after the failure of the government's electoral reform package in June. The government is right in taking the lead to restore confidence. It has garnered support from at least 12 sectors, with promotions such as free tickets to Ocean Park and Disneyland for low-income families and students with special needs. Other highlights are free entrance to museums, open days for disciplined services training schools and gifts to be handed out at the HK Brands and Products Expo.

But whether wounds can be healed is another matter. The campaign is the third of its kind by the current government, after "Hong Kong: Our Home" in 2013, and "Bless Hong Kong" last year. If the experience from these is any reference, the two campaigns did not achieve much.

The new drive may be a good way to draw public attention to the challenges ahead. But many initiatives are regular events or one-off gimmicks aimed at instilling a feel-good sentiment. As Lam said, some people were already contemplating the idea of quitting Hong Kong for good. Free entrance to theme parks and museums are hardly the solutions. Officials should closely monitor whether it may lead to a brain drain.

The word "appreciation" has been chosen as the campaign theme because of its multiple meanings. But the government should appreciate that it takes more than goodwill gestures to bridge the divide. The task ahead is daunting and cannot be accomplished by the government alone. Cross-sector support is essential.

The political tension is expected to prevail in the run-up to the Legislative Council and chief executive elections over the next two years. Unless there are more substantive measures to restore confidence, the city cannot move forward.