Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Appointing ethnic minorities to public bodies in Hong Kong is a small step in the right direction

Proliferation of Indians on short list, though, risks alienating those from other ethnicities, and the city will be the poorer for it

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 12:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 12:26am

The question most often raised about Hong Kong’s commitment to diversity concerns educational opportunities for ethnic-minority children. But for evidence in facts and figures of ambivalence towards the value of diversity it is hard to go past the representation – if you can call it that – of ethnic minorities among people appointed to more than 100 boards, committees and the like that advise the government. It is closer to zero than to 1 per cent – 0.4 per cent to be precise. As a place known for its ability to adapt, Hong Kong must be the poorer for it. This has prompted think tank Zubin Foundation, with leadership consultancy Spencer Stuart, to reach out to ethnic communities and consulates to identify candidates for the government to appoint to various advisory bodies. The result is a “diversity” pool of 16 Hongkongers of ethnic-minority descent qualified and willing to serve on government advisory bodies. This does not mean much without high-level support. To her credit, at the unveiling of the list, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised not only to distribute it to the city’s bureaucracy, but said she would set the example by embracing it. The prevalence of Indians – 11, plus an Indian-American and an Indian-German alongside two Pakistanis and a Filipino – reflects their long-standing integration but, ironically, underlines under-representation of others.

Zubin founder Shalini Mahtani said the final candidates were selected on merit only, without consideration of ethnicity, gender or age, which illustrates the fundamental issue of how to groom talent from ethnic minorities.

It is not uncommon for governments to adopt measures to encourage proactive involvement of minorities, such as positive discrimination or preference. The first step towards tapping into their potential is to raise awareness, for example by appointing representatives to advisory bodies, who in turn could encourage others in their community to serve, widening representation and avoiding the risk of compounding the problem with an ethnic elite.