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Monday, September 02, 2019, 03:43
HK must unite to solve socioeconomic causes of unrest and end chaos
By Wilson Lee Flores
Monday, September 02, 2019, 03:43 By Wilson Lee Flores

It is tragic that the protesters in Hong Kong since June have been wrongly, simplistically and romantically described by not a few Western politicians and also by segments of the Western media as part of a so-called “pro-democracy movement”, analyzing the ongoing problem as “a struggle for political democracy”. I disagree.

Some of these Western politicians and media pundits seem to suggest that the solutions to the current malaise in Hong Kong should perhaps be Gorbachev-era political changes similar to what was unleashed on the then-Soviet Union in the mid-1980s or what the West had dubbed as the “Arab Spring”, which had swept across the Middle East and North Africa such as the cases of Libya, Iraq, Syria, etc.

I sense that the true underlying reasons or root causes for this unending upheaval are the numerous basic social and economic ills plaguing modern-day Hong Kong. These problems should be addressed not only by the leaders of the SAR government, but also by a broad consensus of various sectors. I believe what post-colonial era and post-protests Hong Kong should emulate or at least learn much from is the successful Singapore model of strong political consensus and political stability, social justice and systemic reforms, and nonstop vigorous economic reinvention.

What kind of political leadership should preside over the wide-ranging social and economic transformation needed to save Hong Kong? The late Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew once said Hong Kong needed a political leader who’s a tough-minded “street fighter” to avoid civil unrest and political anarchy. I strongly believe Hong Kong needs a strong government plus a much larger police force not only to guarantee social peace, but for the government to be able to intervene on behalf of the masses, the underprivileged, and the small-business people.

Hong Kong needs decisive and strong political leadership with the vision and the political will not only break up oligopolies, not only to act as referee and intervene in what is still a market-oriented economy, but also to uphold strict law and order, and social stability.

What are these “root cause” problems of Hong Kong, which have become acute now with no more rising incomes for ordinary residents, due to its having lost global competitiveness and its also losing the once-special role as near-exclusive entrepot for the formerly closed-door China hinterland?

The real problems simmering below the elegant skyscrapers and posh boutique shops of Hong Kong include the wide chasm of income and wealth inequality between the super-rich elites and the masses, the oligopolistic hold of big businesses on certain parts of the economy, the British colonial legacy of not having addressed the basic need for affordable mass housing for the ordinary people, the chronic overcrowding, the environmental degradation, the high stress milieu, the need for Hong Kong to strategically and economically reinvent itself.

The gross socioeconomic inequalities and injustices of Hong Kong society were once glossed over and generally endured by the people due to the past consistently fast-rising incomes of the people and the past high economic growth momentum based on an almost textbook case of free competition, a regime of very low taxes, a level playing field, and the city’s once cornering the bulk of the foreign finance and foreign investment deals of the world’s biggest nation — China.

Now that the global situation has changed and is now in constant flux, now that a reformist China has opened up its economy to give rise to many globally competitive cities from Shenzhen to Shanghai, Hong Kong leaders and all sectors must urgently unite to push comprehensive reforms to boost social justice, government-mandated and government-funded affordable mass housing for all Hong Kong families, anti-trust reforms and strategies to boost small and medium-sized enterprises, etc.

Instead of futile attempts at acrimony and any antagonistic acts by many protest rallies, which would unnecessarily poison relations between this special administrative region and the central government in Beijing, Hong Kong leaders and the people must dialogue and also pragmatically appeal to the Chinese mainland authorities for special support and preferential assistance, because it is a win-win scenario of Hong Kong continuing to flourish under the “one country, two systems” dispensation and would be a big achievement for the whole Chinese nation.

Instead of the socially inequitable and unsustainable laissez-faire-style almost-pure capitalism under the British colonizers, which coincided with a then-closed-door China, Hong Kong today can seek valuable lessons and emulate strategies of Singapore’s state-guided free-enterprise economy with a strong emphasis on social justice and social consensus.

How can Hong Kong society achieve comprehensive socioeconomic reforms to enhance not only its survival but its long-term prosperity? Hong Kong needs decisive and strong political leadership with the vision and the political will not only break up oligopolies, not only to act as referee and intervene in what is still a market-oriented economy, but also to uphold strict law and order, and social stability. All other sectors of Hong Kong must also adjust to the changing realities of its situation and its environment, unite with the leaders, and seek active support from the central government in Beijing.

Hong Kong needs political stability and unity to maintain its unique rule of law and judiciary, its efficient bureaucracy and professional police force. It also needs to push bold and comprehensive socioeconomic reforms and have the strong, benevolent support of a resurgent China for it to forge a new, better, sustainable and inclusive future.

The author is analyst and columnist of Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon, the winner of a record 15 Catholic Mass Media Awards, and three Palanca literary awards.

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