Published: 01:32, December 22, 2022 | Updated: 01:43, December 22, 2022
Hong Kong must strive to eliminate unfair discrimination, in all its forms
By Paul Surtees

In a recent column published in this paper, attention was drawn to the unfair and unpleasant discrimination exhibited in Hong Kong toward some mainland residents (Discrimination Against Mainland Chinese Must End, Sept 29). It is ironic that such unfair discrimination should be directed at members of the same ethnic group — Chinese — when discrimination elsewhere is usually directed at members of other ethnic groups. However, unjust discrimination is by no means limited to such circumstances, here or elsewhere.

Pressing for more comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, and for stricter enforcement of them, is certainly one direction we could take to help tackle this problem. That this is a problem Hong Kong has is beyond any doubt. During the anarchic insurrection riots in 2019, people were violently assaulted on the street just because they were suspected of being from the Chinese mainland. That episode featured some of the worst acts of unjust discrimination within Hong Kong, and we should all feel ashamed of it. 

Because much unfair discrimination is based on ignorance, more needs to be done in the education sector to enlighten our upcoming generations. Regrettably, even within some universities in Hong Kong, the hazing of freshmen by older students continues (even though it is prohibited), which is a form of discrimination as the victims are ritually humiliated.

But there are many other varieties of discrimination, some worse than others and some may even be welcomed.

The recent unprovoked violent attacks on people who looked Asian, carried out by bigots in the United States, brought shame on that country of immigrants. But that was only the latest manifestation of blatant discrimination in a long history of oppression there, which includes slavery and the unfair treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, among others. Indeed, the unfair treatment and exploitation of members of the original indigenous community has historically been a common practice in such places as Australia, South America and even on the island of Taiwan.

Those are only examples of discrimination and related violence between different ethnic groups or tribes. The intertribal battles in much of Africa have lasted for thousands of years, and continue to this day. And then there are people who are divided along lines of different religious beliefs, a phenomenon still manifest in the Middle East and elsewhere, and which is often exacerbated by political factors. Fortunately, unfair discrimination on the grounds of religious affiliation is a rarity in Hong Kong.

Complete equality of treatment and opportunity is a vision every government should strive to achieve, and here in Hong Kong much needs to be done to achieve that. For example, our foreign domestic workers do not become eligible for permanent Hong Kong residency after seven years of working in the city (as is the case for most overseas professionals who come to Hong Kong to work). When considered alongside their all-too-common mistreatment — such as unscrupulous recruitment agencies saddling them with high (and illegal) fees; employers who demand they work longer hours than they should, or who fail to give them their contracted days off or even underpay them — many of these women are among the most discriminated-against, most victimized people in our society. Much more needs to be done to protect them, with the government taking the lead — perhaps by empowering a public body to better monitor their recruitment and work conditions. Their services are, after all, essential to the thousands of working parents with children who employ them.

But positive discrimination can also be seen in Hong Kong, with some (but not yet enough) community-spirited employers giving preference to disabled applicants who might otherwise face a lifetime of unemployment. Sadly, discrimination against our disabled fellow residents in terms of offering employment, and in other ways, is still prevalent here.

And what of the architects and designers of our stylish modern Hong Kong buildings, which have staircases with no handrails or provide no wheelchair access, representing barriers to our disabled and frail residents? The need for more specialized building features to aid access to such places is going to increase, as our population gradually ages and our senior residents face more mobility challenges. Are such thoughtless designers discriminating against some of our most vulnerable residents by not considering ease of access to their shiny modern buildings?

Let’s hope Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu and his administration will introduce more effective measures to eliminate, or at least mitigate, discrimination to create a more inclusive society that befits our success as an international banking, trading and logistics hub, and popular tourist destination, as well as our reputation as an iconic East-meets-West crossroads. 

The author is a veteran commentator on Hong Kong social issues.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.