Hong Kong youth commission starts work, as teenager becomes youngest adviser to the government
HKUST student is one of three members of new youth commission selected to give policy advice
A high-level advisory body on Hong Kong’s youth development was set up on Wednesday, with an 18-year-old university student who recommended himself as a member becoming the youngest adviser to the government.
Alex Cheng Hong-wun, a year-one Global China Studies student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was one of three members selected from 503 applicants who recommended themselves under a pilot scheme to involve the city’s youth in policymaking.
Cheng, along with Dr Chan Po-ling from the Hospital Authority and dance sport athlete Ng Sum-chun, will represent the younger demographic among the 34 non-official members of the Youth Development Commission chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.
Announcing the set up of the new body, Cheung praised the trio as having a strong commitment to and abiding passion for the work of the commission.
Cheng said in a phone interview: “I have grown up in Hong Kong and studied in local schools. My attitude was about learning more than contributing when I applied.”
The teenager said he was excited about his new role, but was more interested in matters such as employment and housing problems for youth than politics.
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“I will try hard not to be involved in political issues,” he said, when asked about youngsters’ getting increasingly vocal about the city’s democratic development and independence advocacy.
Cheng said he was against the Occupy movement of 2014 – as reflected in his old Facebook posts dug up by the media – when protesters brought parts of the city to a standstill for 79 days in the name of fighting for greater democracy.
“If anyone is dissatisfied or opposed to something, he or she should express it in an appropriate and calm manner. Don’t affect others’ livelihoods,” he said.
The new commission, which replaces the 28-year-old Commission on Youth, was one of the initiatives for youth promised by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her election manifesto last year as well as her maiden policy address in October.
Tycoon Lau Ming-wai, who chaired the previous youth body, is vice-chairman of the new commission, which will have 11 members who served earlier with him.
The other non-official members hail from diverse backgrounds, with more than half aged 35 or below. They include: Democratic Party rising star Senia Ng Sze-nok, 29; Chan Yuen-ting, the city’s first woman to coach a champion men’s soccer team; former journalist Julia Poon Tsui-ying; renowned chromatic harmonica player Leo Ho Cheuk-yin; and Rizwan Ullah, a teacher from Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo).
The commission’s main responsibilities include overseeing the review, formulation and implementation of youth policies, strengthening collaboration among authorities and other stakeholders on youth policy implementation, and engaging young people.
“The overall upwards social mobility is on the decline. Many youngsters have a hard time facing the future,” Senia Ng, also a barrister, said. “I would like to bring youth voices from the middle class and grass roots to the government.”
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As a member of an opposition party being appointed to a government body, Ng said she did not view it as a “reconciliation”.
“If the government wants to achieve a major reconciliation, it has to listen to the voice of the entire society, not only from the establishment,” she added.
Other new members with political backgrounds include Liberal Party district councillor Jeremy Young Chit-on and the Business and Professionals Alliance’s Clarence Leung Wang-ching, son of Legislative Council President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.
Lau Ming-wai said it was “a good start” that young figures from both sides of the political divide were joining the new commission.
“I believe that all political parties would like to join this commission if we can solve problems pragmatically,” he said, adding that the diversity in membership showed the current government was delivering its promise to be more inclusive in solving the city’s problems.
Lau said his biggest hope was that the new commission would achieve more than its predecessor, and he wanted to implement diverse recommendations “through cross-bureau coordination and bringing an end to factionalism”.
Earlier this month, the soon-to-be-defunct Commission on Youth released a report summarising opinions it had collected from consultations with young people from last May to October.
It recommended the new commission identify and address the causes of excessive pressure on students, create a diverse labour market by developing emerging industries, provide alternative accommodation options such as youth hostels, strengthen resilience in younger people, and establish multiple channels for their voices to be heard.
Lau on Wednesday urged Matthew Cheung to deal with some of the issues identified in the report first, as the “problems cannot be resolved in one or two years”.