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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.
Centrists Have No Room For Survival in the Current Political Climate
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Centrists Have No Room For Survival in the Current Political Climate

Kam Man-fung, director, Hong Kong Association of Young Commentators, and district councillor (2016-19), in Ming Pao (April 29, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Tksteven)

Centrists Have No Room For Survival in the Current Political Climate

A number of centrists have emerged through Hong Kong’s recent district council elections. They argue that Hong Kong is too polarized and needs to find a new “middle way”. But can Hong Kong still accommodate centrists today?

Many individuals certainly have a centrist approach to politics. From "left or right of center" to "pro-integration” to “status-quo” to “pro-independence", Hong Kong society has varying levels of degrees of agreement or disagreement on different issues. Even though an individual may hold economic interests in the mainland, they could still have reservations about the Chinese government and yet be neither “pro China” nor “anti China”.

Inside the Legislative Council, this is not the case. Yet Hong Kong was not always so polarized. Even though politicians may hold different voting priorities on a range of issues from economics to LGBT rights, today, following the anti-extradition-bill protest movement, Hong Kong is now polarized – pro or anti China. In this atmosphere, all other important issues that our society faces are overshadowed.

Nevertheless, some still believe that centrists can survive in today’s political climate. This is naïve. You need only ask a so-called centrist a number of revealing questions – for example, whether they would support the immediate passing of Article 23 (internal security) legislation. If they were opposed, then the pro-China faction would view them as anti China rather than as centrist, and vice-versa.

As the Hong Kong Legislative Council election approaches, centrist candidates must think carefully about how they will respond to such questions. It is necessary to understand that the issues facing Hong Kong today are inherently political. And in this political struggle, centrists simply have no room for survival.


As the Virus Spreads, Has Calm Returned to Hong Kong?
Monday, April 20, 2020
As the Virus Spreads, Has Calm Returned to Hong Kong?

Kevin Wong Tze-wai, Research Associate, and Victor Zheng Wan-tai, Assistant Director and Director of Research, Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (April 17, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

As the Virus Spreads, Has Calm Returned to Hong Kong?

There has been a marked reduction in social conflict since the spread of Covid-19. Does this mean that society has just temporarily paused their political disputes to fight the epidemic – or have the government’s measures to counter the epidemic successfully restored public opinion?

According to a recent opinion survey, the Chief Executive approval rating and the level of public trust in the government have stopped declining. While her popularity remains low, the Chief Executive ‘s score increased marginally to 25.0 percent from 23.4 percent.

Nevertheless, the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has clearly failed to restore public confidence. A survey in March found that 60.5 percent of respondents believed that the administration’s performance was “quite bad” or “very bad’, while 71.5 percent felt that their response was “insufficient” or “very insufficient”. The data suggests a correlation between those who already had a favorable opinion of the government or are pro-establishment and those who view its handling of Covid-19 crisis positively.

There is consensus across the political spectrum on the issue of controlling the spread of Covid-19. Supporters of social movements understand the importance of control measures and so there has been a temporary shift from protesting to battling the virus. Ultimately, society has no choice but to stay at home. The social divides revealed through the anti-extradition law amendment bill action have remained unresolved.

Today’s social calm is no doubt only temporary. The Chief Executive and the government's popularity have not yet picked up significantly. Protests will resume. As such, the government should also focus on repairing divisions within society. While handling of Covid-19 is putting pressure on an exhausted government, this should be seen as an opportunity to take a breath and then deal with the serious social conflict.


Should We March in the Streets this June?
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Should We March in the Streets this June?

Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, President of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association (the union for public-sector doctors), in Stand News (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Studio Incendo)

Should We March in the Streets this June?

There are exactly two months until the first anniversary of "6/12" (June 12, 2019, the date of the first major demonstration against the government’s extradition amendment bill that led to months of protests in Hong Kong). It remains unclear, however, whether Hong Kong people will be able to take to the streets once again on this day. While society remains angry and deep divides have yet to be repaired, the Hong Kong government is unlikely to permit marches in light of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The second wave of the virus has slowed down somewhat, with the daily amount of infections falling from two digits to under 10. This trend, however, only reflects the drop in the number of workers and students returning from overseas and fails to indicate whether the virus is continuing to spread in the community. There have been sporadic cases with no obvious source. In addition, there are still 616 people in public hospitals for treatment, 13 of them in critical condition in intensive care units.

As the number of local infection cases and the age of infected persons rise slowly, there will inevitably be an increase in patients with critical illnesses and admissions to intensive care. There are already signs that Hong Kong’s intensive care services are inadequate and unevenly distributed.

In light of this danger, the logic of some citizens is odd. They expect people returning from overseas to comply with quarantine rules while they themselves still accept the risks associated with going out and potentially standing shoulder-to-shoulder with invisible carriers of the virus. We are facing a conflict between controlling the spread of the virus and protecting human rights and freedoms. To solve this public health crisis, citizens must be self-disciplined. Failing to do so will only give excuses to those in power to extend restrictions over our freedoms further.


Legislative Council Members Should Cut Their Salaries
Monday, April 13, 2020
Legislative Council Members Should Cut Their Salaries

Fanny Wong Lai-kwan, columnist, in Headline Daily (April 9, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Legislative Council Members Should Cut Their Salaries

The government announced details of more crisis support funds. In addition to spending more than HK$130 billion (US$16.7 billion) to pay the salaries of employees of enterprises affected by the epidemic, the Chief Executive, senior government officials and members of the Executive Council will reduce their salaries by 10 percent over the next year to share the economic burden with the people.

Many in the private sector have already had their salaries cut, been forced to take unpaid leave, and even been fired. So it is reasonable for private companies to receive government support as the crisis deepens. The leaders of Hong Kong are paid well and are able to take pay cuts.

Yet members of the Legislative and District Councils have not taken similar steps. When it comes to salary reductions, members of LegCo, especially those in the pan-democratic camp, deserve cuts the most. How many days work have they put in over the past six months? How much work have they done to support the economy and job security for citizens? Think about the farce that they have staged time and again in LegCo meetings. Besides damaging the economy further, practically nothing has been achieved.

Not all members are so shameless. Members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) announced that they would donate a total of HKD$3 million (US$385,000) a month to help the unemployed and those facing immediate livelihood difficulties. Five legislators have donated one month's salary to a newly established emergency fund for the unemployed. The pro-democracy camp has not followed suit.

LegCo members have a very good life. It is time for the public to let them know that they have no reason to be exempt from sharing the economic burden of the crisis.


“Wuhan Virus” not a Discriminatory Term
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
“Wuhan Virus” not a Discriminatory Term

Ding Wang, former editor, Ming Pao Daily News, in his 思維漫步 (Thoughtful Stroll) column in Hong Kong Economic Journal (March 26, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: NIAID-RML)

“Wuhan Virus” not a Discriminatory Term

Hong Kong people do not feel insulted by the term “Hong Kong foot”, a fungal infection commonly known as Athlete’s Foot. Yet there has been a backlash in China against usage of the term “Wuhan Virus”, with claims that it discriminates against the people of the Chinese city and is a damaging smear on the reputation of China.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the coronavirus “Covid-19”, while the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) has designated it as SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. This virus emerged in Wuhan. Naming the virus after the place of origin is simple and memorable. Doing so is neither discretionary nor derogatory, rather it is merely a neutral statement of facts.

Under China’s authoritarian system, there is a strange political phenomenon of "sensitizing" some commonly used words so that people dare not use them. For example, until the 1980s, official history books in China could not mention the term “starvation”.

The impact of Wuhan's virus highlights stark differences in social systems and concepts. Hong Kong is a society accustomed to freedom and to respecting facts and thinking independently. People who are accustomed to living under authoritarian rule are more likely to respect authority. As a result, ultranationalists in China have rejected the term “Wuhan Virus” and responded by promoting the claim that the US military was the source of virus and that China is now saving the world. There are, however, some intellectuals in Beijing and Shanghai who have been critical of the ultranationalists, describing their propaganda as based on hate and vitriol and their thinking as devoid of logic.


Cash Handouts: A HK$71-Billion Political Bet
Monday, March 9, 2020
Cash Handouts: A HK$71-Billion Political Bet

Professor Nelson W S Chow, Emeritus Professor, Department of Social Work and Social Administration. The University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (March 6, 2020) 

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Peretz Partensky)

Cash Handouts: A HK$71-Billion Political Bet

Hong Kong’s 2020 Budget included the surprise announcement that every permanent resident aged 18 or above would receive a cash handout of HK$10,000 (US$1,282). The aim: to assist businesses and citizens affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and to boost consumption. While Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po denied that the handouts were to promote the popularity of the government, this decision was politically motivated.  

First, the pro-Beijing camp suffered a huge defeat in district council elections in November 2019 and as a result they are in urgent need of financial support. The government knows that if they do not provide such support it would anger legislators and weaken the pro-Beijing camp. 

Second, the budget provides a substantial increase in resources to the police force. The pan-democrats would inevitably oppose this. But it creates a dilemma for them as they would have to choose between opposing the cash handouts or indirectly supporting police brutality. 

Third, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has already exhausted her political capital. The only effective instrument the government can use to restore the slightest amount of trust in its governance would be through freeing up some of its HK$1.1 trillion (US$141 billion) in reserves.

The government’s reasons for the handout are misleading. While the public has largely welcomed the giveaway, the government should not believe that money can please all citizens, heal the anger at the establishment, or compensate for its mistakes in handling the epidemic. Hong Kong citizens have only one good reason for asking the government to provide handouts – that is, because there is such a huge fiscal reserve. 

This policy is a political gamble. The government has invested an unprecedented HK$71 billion (US$9.1 billion) on a bet. Whether it achieves the desired results will depend on how sophisticated its gambling skills are.


Only Determination Can Resolve Hong Kong’s Deeply Rooted Problems
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Only Determination Can Resolve Hong Kong’s Deeply Rooted Problems

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, president of the Hong Kong Legislative Council from 2008 to 2016, in am730 (6 January 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Only Determination Can Resolve Hong Kong’s Deeply Rooted Problems

Beijing has repeatedly requested that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government solve the “deep-rooted problems” in Hong Kong society. Following the anti-extradition amendment bill protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has publicly committed to do so. But these issues have remained unresolved for many years. 

The mainland reckons that the problems largely have to do with the economy: Hong Kong's industry is not so diversified. As a result, housing prices have risen rapidly, while income growth has stagnated, widening the gap between the rich and the poor and solidifying class structures. Grievances within society have mounted.

One key reason why these problems are difficult to resolve is the restraint in Hong Kong’s politics due to a dogmatic adherence to the “big market, small government” concept. This leads to inaction. The SAR government is committed to the far-right idea of a free-market economy and remains indifferent to social inequities. As a result, Hong Kong has one of the greatest wealth disparities among the world’s developed economies.

Change must come from the government rather from the protestors. But the current administration is unwilling to abandon this far-right form of governance. Furthermore, Hong Kong does not have a mechanism for "party rotation" so successive governments have unwaveringly adhered to the dogmatic approach.

To create conditions for major social reform, it would be necessary to address the way the chief executive and governing institutions are selected. The method for choosing the chief executive determines whether the leader will have the political determination and energy to promote social reform. To achieve significant social policy reforms will require shaking up vested interests. Introducing universal suffrage for the chief executive and governing bodies would make a big difference to achieving this. Only with determination to address the deep-seated problems in Hong Kong can they be resolved.


Has “One Country, Two Systems” Deteriorated to “One country, 1.5 Systems”?
Monday, December 30, 2019
Has “One Country, Two Systems” Deteriorated to “One country, 1.5 Systems”?

Shih Wing-ching, Chairman of Centaline Holdings and owner of the am730 newspaper, in am730 (23 December 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Has “One Country, Two Systems” Deteriorated to “One country, 1.5 Systems”?

Anti-government protesters have been using the slogan "Reclaim Hong Kong" as they feel that, since the handover in 1997, the concept of “one country, two systems” has gradually deteriorated into “one country, 1.5 systems”.  The “reclaiming” therefore pertains to the missing 0.5.

The protestors feel that, because of China, political rights in Hong Kong are becoming increasingly restricted. For instance, they claim that China is attempting to control the election of the Hong Kong chief executive and the legislature. In addition, the growth of Chinese-funded institutions has also reduced the status of the Hong Kong business community.

Meanwhile, the increase in mainland tourists has allegedly disrupted the daily lives of Hong Kong people. What concerns the protestors the most is that 150 mainlanders move to Hong Kong every day and there is the fear that they will not only compete with the Hong Kong people for resources, but also make Hong Kong become more like the mainland. These are the reasons why they claim that “one country, two systems” has descended into “one country, 1.5 systems”.

While these criticisms are not entirely groundless, they are somewhat exaggerated, and it is somewhat alarmist to claim the system of Hong Kong is only a “0.5 system”. Even if Hong Kong today does not have the original pre-1997 system, it still has at least around 0.85 of the system.

This is because many of the basic elements of Hong Kong's original system have actually been preserved. These include capitalist-style protection of private property rights, British common law-style judicial independence, basic human rights, a simple tax system, and professional and highly self-regulatory organizations. In addition, the government remains efficient, with low social expenditure, is financially stable, and has a large reserve surplus.

These are characteristics unique to Hong Kong. The system, therefore, is completely different to the Mainland’s. In fact, the current system is closer to the West than to China. It is therefore more accurate to refer to the current system as a 0.85 system. Hong Kong people should not consider fighting for the missing 0.15 at the risk of destroying the remaining 0.85.


China’s Future Depends on Hong Kong
Monday, December 30, 2019
China’s Future Depends on Hong Kong

Derek Yuen Mi-chang, Honorary Lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao Daily (December 24, 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

China’s Future Depends on Hong Kong

Beyond the US-China trade war and the Hong Kong anti-extradition amendment bill protests, the US has been applying pressure on China on issues relating to Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. Today, China is at an inflection point. To determine its future direction, look to the country’s rich history.

There are parallels between the Opium Wars of the 19th Century and the protests in Hong Kong. Although 180 years apart, they both involved a clash between China and the West. The Opium Wars had as much to do with Britain’s assertion of “universal values” such as private property ownership and free trade as it did the selling of opium. Today’s tensions in Hong Kong are also about contending claims for “universal values” (such as human rights and democracy) and for principles of sovereignty and non-interference in a country’s internal affairs. Hong Kong is therefore a microcosm of the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reaction to the situation in Hong Kong has been to deploy nationalism, thus impeding China from continuing Deng Xiaoping’s reform path. The reason why the US is able to interfere over issues such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong is that the Communist Party’s grip over China has weakened and the “One-China” policy is unable fully to assimilate these places. 

China’s situation today is not so different from the Opium Wars. The US has identified Hong Kong as a magic button. Once it is pressed, China will inevitably tighten its grip internally and feel compelled to promote nationalism to maintain its system. As a result, China looks inward, and its society regresses backwards to the ways of the past. If China wants to avoid this fate, it must think hard about how to address the Hong Kong issue as soon as possible.