HK needs fundamental changes to tackle deep-seated problems

2021-01-04 12:16:58

A group of black-clad protestors tore down and burned a banner reading "to celebrate the founding of the People's Republic of China". They were among the hundreds of masked protesters who defied a police ban to march from Causeway Bay to Central on Sunday. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn] The passing of a year presents all of us a good opportunity to review the past and look forward to the future. 2020 has been an extraordinary year for Hong Kong, characterized by the abundance of social events. If we look beyond what we saw this year, there are many besetting issues that need to be resolved in the near future. This year, Hong Kong has been affected by political issues inherited from 2019. The social unrest that started in 2019 not only disrupted social order and challenged the rule of law, but also tore society apart, leaving a rift between two major voices that is difficult to mend. Secondly, Hong Kong is caught between the increasingly confrontational Sino-US relations, which have put Hong Kong under severe political and economic pressure. Thirdly, the opposition camp made an all-out effort to destroy Hong Kong with its scorched earth tactics, as well as trying to seize governing power from the administration, making it impossible to maintain a peaceful political environment. With the above three political issues running in the background, Hong Kong certainly faces enormous challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to dealing with the virus, Hong Kong is also beset by a political contagion during which the pandemic health threat has been deliberately politicized, from the row over whether to shut down border facilities in the early stage, strikes by medical staff, restrictions on social gatherings, the decision to postpone the Legislative Council election, the universal testing scheme and up to the recent arrangement on vaccination. A severely divided community makes it difficult for the SAR government to rally public support to combat the pandemic with full force. Consequently, the current anti-pandemic measures have not been effective in containing the spread of the disease, but rather intermittently causing four rounds of spikes in the number of infections. Not only does the public suffer a fatigue in battling the pandemic, but also bewilders the catering industry. If we observe the situation from a macroscopic perspective, we can witness an important change in 2020 apart from the predicament Hong Kong is facing, which is the readjustment of the political order. Enforcing the eligibility for members of the Legislative Council, formulating and enacting the National Security Law for Hong Kong, swearing of allegiance by the civil servants, etc. are initiatives centered on political order. These initiatives are designed to improve and enhance public governance under “one country, two systems”, so as to tackle the above-mentioned political issues that have been affecting Hong Kong. As of now, they have yielded initial success as the local destructive forces have been greatly undermined, paving the way for Hong Kong's prosperity and stability in the long run. However, it is just the beginning of the readjustment of political order. In the next phase, Hong Kong will have to seriously handle some of the deep-seated problems that have plagued the livelihood of many, such as income inequality, housing and land deficiency and limited space for development. What's more, Hong Kong's welfare system has always been based on the bedrock of a stable employment condition, which remarkably attained a state of full employment from 2011 to 2019. Unfortunately, this bedrock was destabilized by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. If Hong Kong wishes to resolve these problems, it has to muster the courage to make fundamental and far-reaching changes in the coming year. However, the readjustment of political order is only a short-term strategy that can help Hong Kong remove perilous stumbling blocks. Whether Hong Kong can make fundamental changes to deal with its deep-seated problems will lie on the effectiveness of its governance. If we can analyze the situation from a macroscopic perspective, we will for sure agree that Hong Kong needs more effective governance, which is the key to bringing about new changes and hope for society to recover from its trauma. The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.