//vol.14-3 Talking point
As we countdown to the first policy address of HKSAR Chief Executive, John Lee, in October 2022, YHK asks Dr Stephen Wong from Our Hong Kong Foundation to throw light on the approach of government to youth concerns, while Professor John Burns from the University of Hong Kong gives insight on concerns about social harmony and civic education.
Speaking recently at the South China Morning Post China Conference Hong Kong 2022, Mr. Lee stressed Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability according to the principle of One Country, Two Systems. “Today, we are one of the world’s top three financial centres, the fifth most competitive economy, a major trading and logistics hub, a rising innovation and technology centre and the vital business bridge between our country and the rest of the world.”
Recalling President Xi Jinping’s speech for the 25th anniversary of the HKSAR on July 1 this year, Mr Lee spoke of references to Hong Kong: “proactively integrating itself into the country’s overall development and carving out its role in national strategies.” He went on to say, “I can tell you that President Xi was speaking directly to youi, to each and every one of you. Whatever you want to accomplish, the doors to Hong Kong remain wide open and welcoming.”
Dr Stephen Wong says that youth matters will certainly be on the agenda of the new administration and that the upcoming blueprint would have more concrete details of proposed measures and policies. “You can see in President Xi’s speech that there’s a particular section on youth, caring for youth; encouraging the youth to contribute and presenting a good future for youth who basically stay and contribute. This spirit of caring for the youth in terms of policy it is what the government can do to help the youth to succeed.”
Elaborating, Dr Wong says, “The Policy Address blueprint should be comprehensive and extensive in the four broad areas. President Xi talked about: education, employment, mobility and housing.” He says that the goal is also to enhance the relevance of vocational training and relevant job skillsets. “Hopefully, this will add new dimensions in which youth can learn and build careers for their future. This is not about just one measure but about an ecosystem that is conducive to better social mobility, better career progression and a bigger platform where youth can pursue their dreams.”
Prof Burns, on the other hand, reflects on how the newly formed Home and Youth Affairs Bureau (HYAB) could address young people’s concerns, saying that there needs to be understanding about social harmony and civic education. “HYAB could perform a great service by investigating the question of what they expect. To do so requires credible surveys and perhaps focus groups. HYAB could commission polling outfits such as HKPORI and CUHK’s Asia Pacific Institute, which have good track records of credible, transparent surveys to help us understand young people’s expectations.”
Prof Burns goes on to speculate that young people are concerned about the content and purpose of civic education. “Evidence indicates, especially for youth, that there are mixed expectations, focusing on both material needs and opportunities as well as non-material rights and freedoms.” He emphasizes that these should be respected, adding that, “Youth may perceive that citizenship focuses on both rights and duties and that its purpose is to produce citizens with independent and analytical minds who can participate in public affairs.”
Dr Wong also comments that the HKSAR government must adopt a reform mindset that takes a strategic approach in the long term, especially because of the rapid changes taking place around the world. He says it is equally important for the HKSAR government to seize the ample opportunities offered by the National 14th Five-Year Plan, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, the Belt & Road Initiative and other initiatives to create strong impetus for growth.
“There must also be a concrete strategy for the delivery of new proposals that will fortify Hong Kong’s status as an international financial, shipping and trading centre,” he says, as well as ventures in innovation and technology, the arts and culture. Having worked with government officials, academics and professionals in Hong Kong, as well as other think tanks and scholars in mainland China and overseas, Dr Wong reiterates the importance to collaborate. “Hong Kong is a small, open economy, so we can achieve high living standards because we actually do business with and have economic relationships all over the world, as well as with the mainland China economy.”
Within the bigger ecosystem, as well as government efforts there should be partnerships with the business, NGO, academic, finance and investment sectors. These are obviously key factors since the government can only do so much.
Dr Wong continues by stressing that “…this open mindset is super important for us to be able to build a bigger platform for our youth. Second, within the bigger ecosystem, as well as governmental efforts there should be partnerships with the business, NGO, academic, finance and investment sectors. These are obviously key factors since the government can only do so much. Nevertheless, growth is crucial for facilitating collaboration between all sectors.”
Prof Burns agrees, saying that for any government to solve social problems effectively, the collaboration of government, business and civil society is needed.
Effectively solving public problems needs the collaboration of government, business, and civil society. That is, everyone working together.
Authorities in Hong Kong have hollowed out civil society, he says, and while official action has closed or expelled scores of NGOs in Hong Kong, many others remain and are doing important work in critical areas such environmental protection, housing, transport and public health. “To encourage citizens and civil society, authorities must restore trust in government. With this, citizens can see that their engagement influences and changes public policy to help meet their expectations.”
Both experts agree that to encourage the rebuilding of a civil society, trust in government needs to be restored. Trust-building measures should empower all citizens. Accountability in government can also rebuild trust which is the key to gaining the enthusiastic cooperation of civil society in solving public problems, explains Professor Burns. “To encourage citizens and civil society, authorities must restore trust in government. With this, citizens can see that their engagement influences and changes public policy to help meet their expectations.”
Dr. Wong concludes by saying that a reform mindset and an ecosystem infrastructure would send clear signals to youth of building the future together. He says, echoing President Xi’s anniversary speech again, that whether youth wish to participate in research, give advice during public consultations or execute policy as civil servants, they are the future protagonists [未來主人翁] in the building and ownership of the city that to many of them is home.
Dr. Stephen Wong is Advisor to HKFYG’s Youth I.D.E.A.S and Deputy Executive Director and Head of the Public Policy Institute at Our Hong Kong Foundation.
John Burns is Emeritus Professor and Honorary Professor at the University of Hong Kong.