Words better than bricks in hitting target

Hong Kong’s problems may be general when stated in broad terms, but their domestic components still need to be identified, and local solutions sought

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:34pm

Here are the forces of discontent that have plagued Hong Kong: “stagnant wages, widening inequality, anger about immigration and … deep distrust of elites and government”.

Most Hong Kong people, I think, would agree with this list of problems, though some may add others such as unaffordable housing and invasive mainland tourism.

The quote was from a review in The New York Times about a new book called Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, by economic historian Adam Tooze.

Neither the book nor the review has anything to say about Hong Kong. Both address those almost universal problems plaguing Western democratic countries today. They happen to be our problems, too.

Psychologist Carl Jung once said his patients often lacked perspectives about their personal problems and thought them unique because they suffered directly and intimately from them. As with neurotics, so it is with societies.

Still, you would be right to argue the city’s problems may be general when stated in broad terms; their domestic components still need to be identified, and local solutions sought. Think globally, act locally, as they say.

Hong Kong’s differences from the mainland don’t justify separatism

Still, a broader view of the world is imperative – to guard against misdiagnosis. There are two fatal misdiagnoses in Hong Kong: the localist demand for independence and the fight for so-called genuine democracy.

If you think either one or both are the only solutions to the laundry list of problems drawn up above, you are deluded. The localist independence movement is a symptom of those problems, not the solution. And Western-style democracy won’t solve or soften those problems either; they exist all across Western societies.

I am not advocating “don’t rock the boat”. We can be robustly critical of the Hong Kong government. We still need to be diplomatic in our dealings with the mainland. Turning Beijing and mainlanders into enemies is to enter a war we cannot win.

I was reading a new article in the Post by Tom Yam, of the Citizens Task Force on Land Resources, which spells out the vested interests behind the proposed mega reclamation project off Lantau, and the cooked-up numbers dished out by the government to justify it.

And there is economist Leo Goodstadt, with his deep understanding of local government and its post-1997 failings. Read his latest book, A City Mismanaged.

They offer evidence-based critiques and solutions without resorting to throwing bricks at police.