Real value of Hong Kong’s handover celebrations will be felt for years to come

Matthew Cheung says the milestone offers an opportunity not just to take stock, but also look ahead, and its real value lies in the community’s concerted efforts to make the 20th anniversary a celebration for all

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 1:20pm

Anniversaries evoke all kinds of memories and emotions – and this is certainly the case in 2017 as we mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland and the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Many in our community strongly believe that the 20th anniversary is cause for celebration – that we should mark this milestone together as a testament to the considerable progress made over the past two decades, and as a juncture to consider the many opportunities in the years ahead.

Hong Kong government set to spend HK$640 million to celebrate anniversary of city’s handover

In an open and free society such as Hong Kong, there are bound to be different views. Some may be ambivalent; others may feel there is not much to celebrate.

But, whatever your take on the 20th anniversary, one thing binds us all, and that is the deep-felt love we have for Hong Kong. We all want Hong Kong to do well, and keep on succeeding. We all want it to become an even better society where everyone can have a decent home, a good education, access to health care and the freedom to pursue their dreams.

These are the common aspirations of the people and the government. In this respect, there is a unity of purpose – but, to make it happen, we must work together, put aside petty political differences and seek common ground.

The 20th anniversary provides us with a perfect opportunity to do just that – to collectively take a step back, reflect on what we have achieved, and to consider what we might be able to do as individuals and as a community to build a better Hong Kong.

This ethos – “Together. Progress. Opportunity” – lies at the heart of our thinking about how to mark and celebrate the 20th anniversary.

Watch and listen: Hong Kong SAR 20th anniversary theme song

At this juncture, we should also understand that the 20th anniversary is not just about, or for, Hong Kong alone. It is a source of great pride and importance for the nation as a whole – Hong Kong’s return to the motherland in 1997 has reunited the family and, as we all know, family ties are of utmost important in our society and culture. Hong Kong is part of the Chinese nation, and the nation is celebrating this important milestone with us. There is significant emotion attached to this that we should embrace.

The anniversary is also of considerable interest and importance to the international community in Hong Kong, which has invested billions of dollars in the economy and donated time, money and goods to this place they also call home. This includes the international companies, chambers of commerce, and the tens of thousands of expatriates who live and work here. I think it is fair to say that most of these “adopted” family members love this place as much as any born and bred Hongkonger. All of them, too, want to see Hong Kong shine even brighter on the international stage under “one country, two systems”.

On the ground in Hong Kong, if there is one thing we want to do, it is bring the celebrations to as many people as possible. We are delighted that more than 330 activities initiated by community groups and other organisations have so far been accredited to join the anniversary events calendar. We expect more will come.

Sure, some events may already be on the annual calendar. But that does not mean they are not worth including in the celebrations. If event organisers want to further engender a sense of participation, or boost their publicity by riding on the 20th anniversary, then we welcome them with open arms.

Anything goes for the HK$640 million Hong Kong handover extravaganza

The same may be said of the 400-plus events being arranged by government agencies. Some may be annual or regular events, but the inclusion of the 20th anniversary branding helps to reinforce the message that there is indeed much to celebrate and promote about Hong Kong’s past 20 years – and more importantly, our future together.

Some have remarked that events such as district cleaning have nothing to do with the anniversary. I beg to differ.

The 20th anniversary is not just about, or for, Hong Kong alone. It is a source of great pride for the nation as a whole

Garnering community support to work together as a team to clean up a neighbourhood, to get people talking, cooperating, and fostering community spirit and social cohesion is exactly what the 20th anniversary is all about. And, the end result of such efforts is a cleaner and nicer living environment for all those who live in the district, and all those who visit.

A number of new programmes are being rolled out to “dress up” the city in a way that will add a fresh look or dash of colour to the cityscape, through street art and street furniture, sculptures and landscaping – much of this is being undertaken by professional groups and students. Public space should be for public enjoyment and it is our hope that these initiatives will provide the catalyst for more such projects in ­future.

We have gone to some lengths to do more for the community at the grass-roots level, so people from all walks of life can enjoy the anniversary programmes. That means concerted efforts to reach out to the less fortunate and the elderly – more than 500,000 people will benefit from such 20th anniversary initiatives. This includes home visits to 300,000 families, in which senior officials will take part.

About 120,000 people will benefit from district-based activities. And 105,000 free tickets will be handed out for major sporting and cultural events. Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland will also each give way 9,000 free tickets for community groups.

Young people are a priority, with specific programmes for youth ambassadors, internships and exchanges. The aim is to broaden their horizons by providing opportunities for them to use their energy and talent as representatives of Hong Kong, to gain new experiences and to share these experiences with their peers.

On the cultural and sporting front, we will roll out an ambitious and high-quality series of events that will not only enrich the cultural calendar for locals and visitors but also help our continuing efforts to strengthen the city’s capacity to stage such events and exhibitions, and to build audiences, as we push ahead with the West Kowloon Cultural District and Kai Tak Sports Park. The experience gained this year by professionals, students and volunteers will be put to good use for years to come.

Justify HK$640 million price tag for handover celebrations

Yes, the 20th anniversary events come with a price tag. But the dollar signs or event lists on their own do not tell the whole story. The real story, the real value, lies in the concerted efforts to make this anniversary a celebration for all as well as the cultivation of community spirit, new thinking and new experiences that will take root and grow long after 2017 draws to a close.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung is Hong Kong’s chief secretary