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劉廼強 | 29th Jul 2009 | SCMP | (27 Reads)

Every five years or so, China gathers its overseas diplomats in the capital for an important meeting to chart the country's foreign policy in the coming years.

The recent session, which ended on July 20, seemed to be a particularly important one as it was attended by all members of the Politburo, and President Hu Jintao's speech showed a clear departure from the previous guidelines laid down by Deng Xiaoping two decades ago.

At the time of Deng's proclamation, China was only 10 years into its reform and opening-up policy and was still weak and poor, and isolated following the 1989 Tiananmen incident.

Deng instructed the Chinese government to lie low in the international arena and not stick its neck out.

This policy avoided many conflicts with the West, notably the United States, and paved the way for a peaceful and stable environment for the next two decades of rapid development.

This year, China will probably overtake Japan to become the second-largest economy in the world, after the US.

With the Western world now beginning to advocate a G2 - China and the US - and demanding that China play a bigger role in international economics and politics, it is no longer possible for the nation to keep a low profile.

Internally, events over the past two years, especially those related to Tibet and Xinjiang , have alerted the entire country to international influence in China's domestic affairs and its image abroad.

China's global interests also dictate that it cannot avoid sticking its neck out. One example is escorting its merchant ships through the troubled waters near the Horn of Africa and protecting them from heavily armed Somali pirates.

China's policies, both domestic and foreign, are guided by some basic tenets. If the underlying principles remain unchanged, the policy, on the whole, stays intact and actions are only piecemeal. The changes in important guidelines are always announced in high-level meetings.

At the diplomats' meeting, Mr Hu called on China's overseas representatives to play a bigger role in serving the country's reform and national interests, as China is seeking stable and rapid development amid the global economic downturn.

What the Western media did not pick up, as it was not reported in the Xinhua English release, was Mr Hu's exaltation to increasing the country's influence in politics, its competitiveness in economics, its congeniality in image, and its poignancy in morality.

A few years ago, in the report to the 17th Party Congress, Mr Hu, in the capacity of party general secretary used the phrase soft power for the first time in Chinese official documents.

The new diplomatic guideline can be regarded as an extension and a natural development along this line of thinking. It signifies a clear departure from the guidelines to lie low. It is also a new mission statement of what role the country would like to play in the international community, and how it wants to be received.

China now feels a need to proactively project its newly acquired big power status in international affairs, and not have its image distorted and demonised by the usually hostile Western media.

It all boils down to the old saying: We come in peace. The emerging China is definitely not a threat to anyone.

Taken this way, the world will soon find it is a new blessing.

As a firm believer in transparency, I honestly think that failing to pick up on this important message is a big mistake on the part of the Western media, and a big loss to the Western world.

劉廼強 | 24th Jul 2009 | SCMP | (14 Reads)

Fifty residents of a village in the northern New Territories have vowed not to move to make way for a maintenance yard, part of the high-speed rail line linking Hong Kong to the rest of China.

The issue is gathering momentum and gaining support from a growing number of non-governmental organisations and pro-democracy politicians, some of whom have pushed the matter to the moral high ground of spatial democracy - that is, the democratic distribution of facilities and services to all urban areas.

Except for the NGO involvement, the protest sounds familiar. Similar demonstrations have taken place many times in the past, and were invariably solved when the stakes were raised to the protesters' satisfaction.

Those who shout: I don't want your money usually mean: I want more. If, with the intervention of the NGOs, this incident were to escalate into a moral issue in the realms of democracy and justice, there would be no room for compromise, no deal and, in the end, no money. This bargaining strategy is very bad for business.

But, if the villagers backed down when sufficient incentives were offered, the NGOs would appear to have been sold out, resulting in a tremendous loss of credibility. To the public they would look gullible, rather than righteous.

Of course, they would justify their retreat with excuses like: We have helped the villagers gain better compensation from the government, but that would ring hollow all the same.

I am all for conservation and helping vulnerable groups, provided they have a case. But apart from the I don't want to move argument, I see no justification here.

I agree that, in many instances, people are treated worse than butterflies, for example. At least when the habitat of the latter is endangered, it becomes a conservation area. We cannot reason with butterflies and persuade them to move, but we can do so with our fellow humans. Moreover, the butterflies' offspring will also thrive in their reserve; there is less reason to be optimistic about the descendants of present-day villagers living there for long.

So, if the fact that someone is unwilling to move is a good enough reason to win the moral support of citizens at large, then the development of our entire city will be put on hold.

Dissident politicians entered this dispute to gain exposure. One claimed that the construction of the high-speed rail link would only serve to bring more mainland visitors to Hong Kong. Coming from the mouth of a trade union leader, such a statement is alarming. It seems he must have forgotten that more tourists mean more employment, especially for vulnerable, uneducated and unskilled workers.

The dissidents also forget that many Hong Kong citizens travel north. Will they not benefit? With the completion of the initial phase of the high-speed rail network on the mainland, by 2012, major cities will be much more interconnected.

Hong Kong started late and will only be able to plug into the system by 2014. If we don't hurry, we risk being left out in the cold. We will then become a lonely island in the South China Sea, which would clearly be detrimental to our future development.

Our dissidents have yet to learn from the disappointing turnout for the July 1 march that being anti-government without a real cause is not a very good rallying point for voters.

The protesting villagers in the New Territories will be much more grateful if the pan-democratic politicians can help them get off their high horses and get higher compensation instead. And if they don't get in quickly, pro-establishment lawmakers like Lau Wong-fat will do a much better job.

劉廼強 | 23rd Jul 2009 | China Daily (Hong Kong Edition) | (21 Reads)

I had the occasion to travel through many large cities in western Europe and Japan recently, searching for the true meaning of modernity. The past three decades of reform and opening up have pushed China further up the Western modernization ladder.

Official assertions of not becoming totally Westernized notwithstanding, we are invariably drawn toward Western standards of living as defined by per capita GDP and lifestyle, so much so that the look of our cities and costumes, and our modes of transport show there is very little Chineseness left in the country. But we still feel we are not modernized, that is Westernized, enough. We still use the West’s benchmarks to judge our life and society.

There is a growing frustration because we have realized that no matter how hard we try, we will never be truly modernized because we can never be truly Westernized. The Japanese have tried hard during the past so many years to modernize itself, and in our eyes (as well as that of the rest of the world) they seem to be extremely successful. In many fields such as robotics, consumer electronics and railways, they have even surpassed the West. After the global financial crisis struck, Western governments began talking about quantitative easing and “bad” banks. These are in fact Japanese inventions. But to the West, Japan is still not Western.

Then is Westernization with Chinese characteristics the right model of modernization for China?

First, we should know what is modern and what is Western? Are trams modern? We banished trams from cities because they were considered outdated. By blindly following the West, we started building light-rail systems in cities and around the country without realizing they were just the “modern” name for trams. In many European and Japanese cities, as well as in Hong Kong, century-old tram systems are still operating successfully. The modern light-rail system is a new technology, no doubt, to save energy. But what about the good old bicycles, which most of our cities gave a silent burial because they were deemed backward? The irony is bicycles are making a comeback in the West and in Japan.

Traveling in western Europe will prove there is no such thing as a unified West. The West is unified by the cultural tradition of the Roman Empire and Christianity. Traveling through Switzerland from Germany to Italy, the look and layout of cities will show the diversity in uniformity. The cultural differences become profound if we compare western Europe with central or eastern Europe.

If we leave the definition of modernity to Westerners, our struggle to achieve it will be like shooting at a moving target. Japan’s experience shows that even if China followed the West’s path, the West would never accept it as Western.

This means we have to redefine modernity or even forget the over-simplistic notion about it and set new objectives for our development. The new set of objectives has to be internal rather than external. A people-oriented philosophy should be a good starting point. We have to do certain things or adopt certain policies not because they are modern in the Western sense of the term, but because they would be good for our people.

For example, Western fast food should be restricted not because the West has just started the process, but because low-nutrition, high-fat junk food is not good for health. Most of the people in the West are addicted to cars. But that does not mean we have to follow their example. Hence, we should put an early brake on the development of our car industry, and start planning communities where 90 percent of long-distance travel is by railway and 90 percent of short-distance commuting is by bicycle or on foot, though no Western country, not even Japan, has achieved that. We have to push ahead because it is healthy, environmentally friendly and in line with our policy of a frugal society and a circular economy. Our aim should not be to build a modern society as the West sees it, but a modern society with Chinese characteristics.

We have to go back to the basic idea of modernity. Advancement of science and technology has empowered humankind to create a more people-oriented society. We have to see modernity as a continuation of the Renaissance. The Europeans got off to a wrong start because early industrialization was highly inhuman. That process continued until the adoption of socialist measures. Inheriting the Hellenistic and Roman traditions, the Europeans achieved internal modernity through conquests and colonization of other countries. It continued through hegemony over hard and soft power until the environment cried out for help and forced the West to follow a more humane post-modern society since the 1980s.

The essence of modernity is humanity. The existing Western model of modernity is something we cannot and should not follow. By going back to the basics, we will be able to find our path to a truly post-modern and humane society that will be the model for other countries searching for modernity to follow.

Chinese culture, with its rational Confucian ethical system — which is humane but without the accompanying imperialistic ambitions — is a good starting point to achieve a new model of modernity.

Or, should we go one step further and discard the outdated concept of modernity altogether, and just be progressive with a clear humane and harmonious objective?

劉廼強 | 21st Jul 2009 | 信報 | (54 Reads)

最近有年青人告訴我,時下年青人男的都想做 Tony、女的都想做 Isabella。一聽之下,初時真有點反胃;再想深一下,這兩位的確是香港「人辦」,非常全面而豐富地集中代表了香港社會文化的所有優點和缺點。年青人如以這兩位為模仿偶象(role model),客觀地說,非常合理之至。世上並無問題兒童及青少年,只有問題成人;如要怪責,只好怪責我們自己!
















劉廼強 | 14th Jul 2009 | 信報 | (38 Reads)