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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Racial harmony in Hong Kong can begin by building bridges between ethnic minority and Chinese youth

Paul W.C. Wong and Gizem Arat say it is just as important to highlight similarities between ethnic minorities and the majority population as acknowledging their differences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 5:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 5:55pm

March 21 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which aims to raise awareness of cultural diversity and social inclusion worldwide. In Hong Kong, where ethnic minorities comprise 8 per cent of the population, ethnic minority youth in particular should be the focus of efforts to promote racial harmony and tolerance for three reasons.

First, the latest census data shows that while the overall number of youth in Hong Kong decreased over the past 10 years, the population of non-Chinese youth increased from 13,117 in 2006 (1.5 per cent of the youth population) to 27,651 in 2016 (3.6 per cent).

Second, in a rapidly ageing Hong Kong, we not only need a large but also a strong and united working population to support socioeconomic development.

Third, after closing “designated schools” in 2013-14, more non-Chinese students are now attending “mainstream” schools. Hence, racial harmony between Chinese and non-Chinese young people has recently been the focus of attention. 

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From a social policy perspective, although the language barrier is the biggest hurdle to achieving racial harmony, raising awareness of unity and respect for racial and cultural diversity among the Chinese majority is equally important. This cannot succeed solely through the efforts of the government and non-government organisations. Rather, every Chinese person should appreciate the advantages of diversity at school, work and in the community.

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Additionally, local and international studies on the issue have largely been skewed towards identifying the difficulties or challenges ethnic minorities face and the differences between them and the majority populations in host societies, which tend to stereotype them as weak or a burden to society.

Focusing on the similarities between youth in the ethnic minority and majority populations may enhance social integration and cohesion. To achieve this, there could be more emphasis on how ethnic minorities can be assets not only to the existing education system or employment, but also to Hong Kong as citizens. Thus, the stress could be on bringing all youth – regardless of their ethnicity, religion, age or gender differences – together to contribute to society.

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Highlighting not only the differences but also the commonalities between the ethnic groups would help researchers better understand the processes of marginalisation and integration. It would help Hong Kong find ways to promote resilience among its youth, and develop strategies to minimise social exclusion and promote multiculturalism.

For instance, in education, it is not only children and young people who should be introduced to the concepts of equal opportunity and equality, but also their parents could be made more aware that families have different values about education and other important aspects of life.

The United Nations adopted the Durban Declaration and Action Network in 2001, urging all countries to collect and disseminate reliable statistics on racial discrimination and xenophobia in their societies as these could inform socially inclusive policies.

Focusing on the similarities between youth in the ethnic minority and majority populations may enhance cohesion

Researchers need more representative samples of the growing ethnic minority population in Hong Kong. Without more detailed information on the ethnic minority student and community population being available to researchers and policymakers (such information is currently only available at the district level), suggestions and implications for social inclusion could be biased. 

All young people in Hong Kong can contribute to overcoming issues such as intergenerational poverty and limited career choices. The 2018-2019 budget mentioned that a steering committee will be formed to coordinate, review and monitor work in the area of supporting ethnic minorities. Also, the financial secretary has earmarked HK$500 million for strengthening support for ethnic minorities. We hope that the committee will closely monitor how the funds benefit all students, regardless of their diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Dr Paul W.C. Wong is an associate professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong and project co-investigator at the Jockey Club Lab for Cultural Diversity Study, where Dr Gizem Arat is a senior programme officer