What Now For Hong Kong?

by Patrick Liew on August 20, 2019

What Now For Hong Kong?

As somebody who loves Hong Kong and who is a great admirer of the Hong Kong spirit, it saddens me to see the protest continuing and escalating to a dangerous level.

It started with criticism of the proposed extradition law and since then, it has evolved to include other demands and become increasingly violent.

If the situation is not resolved, major stakeholders may become more and more entrenched with and defensive of their views.

They may have an increasing tendency to look inwards rather than for common interests and aspirations.

The resulting drift in misunderstanding can potentially exacerbate tension and cause even more extreme conflicts and violence.

There’s a possibility that they may withdraw from positive interactions and even stop responding to any call or initiative for a durable solution if their demands are not met.

Trust and respect may fall further apart.

The looming concern with the growing tension is that there may be a possibility of miscalculation and misfire.

If there’s no major initiative to calm and reset the situation, I fear lives may be lost and Hongkongers may become so polarized and divided that its societal fabric may not return to its original or a better condition.

History has shown that a simple disagreement can snowball to become a major and protracted civil unrest.

If that happens, Hong Kong may eventually lose its well-regarded position in the global community and its unique edge as a gateway of international trade and commerce.

In the face of such a challenge, leaders on national level as well as on every level in society have to step in and lead a whole-of-society, including whole-of-government approach to resolve the situation and take Hong Kong to a higher level.

1. Clear Communication

First, the buck has to stop on Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s table.

Strangely enough, she and her team have not been the most proactive in standing up together to take full ownership of the growing challenge and propose a solution to resolve the protest and take Hong Kong forward.

They seem to allow the ensuing problems to run their course, and hope that these problems will subside naturally or be resolved by interventions from other forces.

Carrie Lam has already admitted that there was a breakdown in communication.

As a start, instead of pronouncing that the proposed extradition bill is “dead” and leaving key questions unanswered, including concerns about whether the bill will be revived, she should formally withdraw the bill.

At some point in the future, even if another extradition bill is required, it’ll probably not be crafted in the same way.

2. Community Leaders

Carrie Lam and her team should rope in leaders who are credible, objective, neutral, and respected in their communities, especially those with expertise in mediation and conflict resolution, to advise them and help them craft a roadmap to break the current impasse and develop immediate and sustainable solutions.

These leaders may not volunteer themselves unless they are invited to help address the issues.

They understand their communities and are in a better position to communicate with them.

In addition, they can command attention and clarify important matters that can contribute to conflict resolution.

And help major stakeholders find common grounds, bridge gaps, and develop agreements to achieve peace and progress.

3. Key Stakeholders

The Hong Kong government should identify and engage key stakeholders who are either involved with the protest or have a stake in wanting the protest to come to a peaceful and proper end.

It should also involve leaders with different experiences, disciplines, and perspectives to study the related political, economic and social challenges, and help craft policies and action plans.

The government should ensure that these key stakeholders are largely representative of the Hong Kong population, and as diverse as its people.

This is not the easiest task, but to nip the problem at its bud, they need to enrol leaders who can help the government understand the heartbeats of different communities.

Together with community leaders, these key stakeholders can help develop and implement a plan to overcome major roadblocks and achieve durable solutions.

By working in conjunction with credible leaders from different quarters of society, the Hong Kong government can build up the requisite credibility and consensus to effect deep and constructive changes.

In addition, the collective decision-making process can be potentially used to engage those who feel disenfranchised and also help them in the healing process.

It can help to build bridges with past adversaries and solicit their help in eradicating past divides.

And establishing policies, plans and practices that can be better embraced by related communities and people.

4. Law Enforcement Officers

From videos posted on the Internet, it would seem like the police and other law enforcement officers either did not have proper plans to respond to the protesters, or they did not carry out their plans properly on different occasions.

There seem to be a lack of proper rules of engagement and coordinated measures to de-escalate tension.

Law enforcement should always be carried out and seen to be carried out, as part of a wider solution and be perceived to be so by members of the public.

Otherwise it would be hard to promote faith in the law if enforcement of the law is not seen to be conducted in an appropriate way.

Case in point, while the police were firing a series of tear gas to disperse protesters in Sheung Wan, a more dangerous incident was happening in Yuen Long.

Thugs in white T-shirts were attacking not only the protesters with sticks and iron rods.

They were also attacking anybody who crossed their paths, including commuters on train, bystanders and even journalists covering the protest.

To date, the police has yet to provide a detailed report of its investigation of the thugs and the incident.

5. Media Relations

The Hong Kong government should have a crisis response plan with clear strategies on its response to the protest, and the response should correspond with realities on the ground.

The plan should be carried out from the start of the protest, and regular updates should be provided to both mainstream and alternative media, including social media in the course of the unfolding situation.

Otherwise, in the new normal (or abnormal being the new normal), social media can exert a great influence on the public and turn many against the government.

A video clip that portrays only part of an incident can go viral and be played repeatedly until it becomes widely accepted as representative of the situation.

Such misinformation can incite negative emotions and further exacerbate problems on the ground.

Hence, it’s important that competent personnel be assigned to monitor the media, including social media, and to correct misinformation and provide the appropriate information and perspectives.

The quality of the message and how it’s being communicated can play an important part to reduce tension during the protest, prevent deeper social unrest, and implement positive solutions.

It can also improve confidence in law enforcement as well as trust on the government in general, and strengthen process of working together as a people in the future.

Therefore, the government should have a clear, concerted and coherent strategy to maintain and improve interaction with appropriate community leaders, key stakeholders and professional bodies, including associations, societies, and non-governmental organizations.

Regular updates should also be provided to key individuals, groups and organizations.

Such communication should include not only appeals for assistance in conflict resolution but also for help in educating the public.

6. Trust Level

The protest and demands of the demonstrators in Hong Kong are but symptoms of a bigger problem.

One of the root causes of the unhappiness is Hongkongers’ lack of trust on their political leaders in both Hong Kong and mainland China.

A poll conducted by The Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that 65.7 per cent of Cantonese-speaking residents aged 15 to 29 were either very dissatisfied or not quite satisfied with the performance of the government. 63 per cent of respondents expressed distrust with the government.

To make matters worse, it’s quite possible that there are dark forces from within and without Hong Kong that are instigating unhappiness, unrest and upheavals.

Political leaders of Hong Kong and China have to start winning hearts and minds, and earning the trust, respect, affection and loyalty of Hongkongers.

They have to demonstrate and be seen to demonstrate their integrity, honesty, and willingness to understand the needs of Hongkongers and to show concretely that they care for them.

They need to improve their service standards to earn public trust.

Engage their people in a series of dialogues and address a number of long-standing issues in the economy and society that are both related to and beyond the demands of the protesters.

Embrace different points of views and show respect to the people who express them regardless of the government’s position or issues at hand.

If need be, key political leaders may need to apologize to Hongkongers for any major oversight and mishandling of key issues.

While the apology may be perceived to be a sign of weakness, it can have a cathartic effect to help start a conversation to restore society to good order.

As an aside, the erosion of trust level is not only happening in Hong Kong but also across many developed countries in the world.

In the words of Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, “The basic problem, across a wide range of nations, is the loss of trust in either governments or markets to deliver broad-based prosperity, and to give people a fair chance in life, a fair crack at success. And this loss of trust in the system has been compounded by an equally evident loss of a sense of togetherness in society.”

7. Roots Of The Problem

A major protest doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and as a stand-alone incident.

Carrie Lam and her administration should study roots of the erosion of trust and widespread angst and anger.

By defining the heart of the problems and contributing factors that triggered the protest, and framing these issues properly, it will help to improve communication with the general populace.

Show to them that their leaders understand the depths of their concerns and in doing so, increase their confidence and trust levels.

As one of the most liberal and open societies in the world, Hong Kong is subject to the vagaries of a largely laissez-faire economy.

Many are concerned about the downsides of globalization and disruptive forces of advanced technology.

There are growing bread-and-butter challenges in terms of wages, employment, cost of living, housing, poverty, the environment, and an aging population.

The Hong Kong government will need to restructure its economy, including land reforms to help improve the livelihood and lifestyles of its people.

Case in point, the government will need to break the oligopolistic hold of private developers in the housing market.

According to a study conducted by Demographia – an urban planning policy consultancy in 2019, Hong Kong is world’s most expensive housing market for 9th straight year.

In the same study, it was reported that it would take an average of 21 years for a family to save enough money, without spending a single dollar, to own a home in Hong Kong.

Over time, Hong Kong has to diversify its economy so that it’ll not be overly-dependent on mainland China.

Upgrade its workforce, develop high value-added enterprises and industries, open new markets, and move up the value chain to progress and succeed in the new economy.

8. Strengthening Governance

The protest does not have to be a stumbling block, but a stepping stone to build a more efficacious, effective and efficient government.

Research in crisis management shows that the test of crisis can demonstrate the leadership, values, and operational capabilities of an organization.

Therefore, Carrie Lam and her team should adopt a learning orientation, improve their leadership and teamwork as well as improve quality and standards of governance.

They should continue to demonstrate their commitment to reach out to both protesters and other Hongkongers, and to develop stable, secure and sustainable solutions.

In the process of dealing with the protesters, they should be able to uncover and address weaknesses, and to strengthen the organizational structure, systems and processes.



I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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