What are senior Hong Kong officials scared of? Public opinion? No, they are scared of getting into trouble with their political masters in Beijing who, by the way, are very much less concerned about public opinion than about maintaining public order. So, letter writing to government departments is unproductive unless the purpose is to deal with everyday matters or educate officials in perspectives other than that of their masters, and petitions are unproductive unless they gain grass roots support from ordinary Hong Kong people.
What are the majority of ordinary Hong Kong people concerned about? Not rule of law, conservation or democracy. They are primarily concerned about affordable housing, education, healthcare, economic issues. It’s only a minority that shares our “western” values, and Beijing has a very clear (although unstated) long term plan to isolate this minority and, if they can’t or won’t adapt, encourage them to leave. They will be replaced with mainlanders who are more in tune with the aspirations and wishes of Beijing. One Country Two Systems means that Hongkongers won’t continue to enjoy a separate system unless they accept the premise of a single country under the national government. Having spent a large part of my life in China this is self-evident to me.
To have any chance of achieving meaningful change in Hong Kong I think we need to focus attention on those areas where Beijing, and the majority of ordinary Hong Kong people, are most concerned – their shared “hot buttons”. Take, for example, the housing shortage in Hong Kong and the issues around this problem. The solution does not lie with a continuation of the small house policy, badly implemented as it has been, because the housing produced is beyond the reach of many ordinary people, because three storey houses are too small to make a meaningful impact on the problem and, at the same time, cause serious environmental problems. Refuting the Heung Yee Kuk’s argument that the Kuk is fulfilling an unmet housing need is a worthy goal, but not a solution to the problem. However, a solution might lie in redeveloping “brown field” sites in already urbanised areas. We should think more deeply about solutions, not just about problems.
The Heung Yee Kuk claims patriotic, anti-British roots. Be that as it may, today it is also a group whose followers willfully subvert the authority of the government across large areas of the SAR in a manner which would not be tolerated in the mainland. The current Chinese government is committed to rooting out corruption, a major source of discontent among ordinary mainlanders. Corruption, including the variety which involves local governments and land issues, is a political “hot button” in the Communist Party at the highest levels – and it’s a concern to ordinary Hongkongers. If Donald Tsang is not immune to the anti-corruption drive, why should the Heung Yee Kuk, its village chieftain clients, rural developers or Lands Department officials be?
Highlighting illegal transactions between developers and villagers through judicial reviews, petitions and media exposure could lead to more prosecutions and force the government to deal with the small house policy and the Kuk. We should continue to actively support those activities while at the same time providing government and other stakeholders, including indigenous villagers and rural residents, with viable solutions to the problem.