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劉廼強 | 30th Oct 2009 | SCMP | (19 Reads)

When I read the slogan snails without shells recently, I could not help but chuckle. Long time no see! The last time this term was used was around the handover, 12 years ago, when property prices were sky high. Back then, the democrats took to the streets, demanding housing for all snails, meaning everybody.

That seemed like a jolly good idea, and our first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, bought it and launched the fatal campaign to build at least 85,000 housing units a year. The property bubble burst and prices tumbled. At its peak, there were estimated to be more than 1 million people in negative equity.

The same dissidents took to the streets again, demanding that the government put a stop to the price fall. This, together with the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, ultimately hurt Tung and he resigned in 2005 after 68 consecutive months of painful deflation. The property crash was finally arrested when the administration stopped virtually all supply of government land and housing.

Unfortunately, our officials never know when to ditch a policy. After years of restricted supply of both government land and housing, prices have rocketed again. The very same democrats have reappeared in rallies, chanting the same old slogan of snails without shells.

The same holds for environmental protection issues. The people who previously lobbied the government hard to reduce vehicle emissions and build more railways, and to replace old-fashioned light bulbs with energy saving bulbs, are now fighting against the building of high-speed rail links as well as the bulb replacement programme.

Are these people really green, and what are they really up to? I can only conclude that dissidents are dissidents, and they will never pass up any chance to bash the government. They have no true convictions; only deep mistrust of the government and the chief executive, whom they regard as Beijing's puppet.

Out of this they can concoct any conspiracy theory of collusion and abuse of power for their own benefit. Following on from Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's recent policy address, dissidents dug up alleged collusion with his in-laws. Yet, these allegations are without substance. Still, the harm is done, and what can anyone do?

The silent majority is totally fed up with watching these meaningless fiascos in the mainstream media everyday. But again, what can anyone do? No one has the guts to call for an immediate stop to it. As the mainstream Chinese media is sympathetic to this nonsense, any objector would be either ostracised or shouted down. So-called public opinion is monopolised by the dissidents and manufactured at will, and the true voice of the public is totally drowned out and ignored.

I don't know what will happen, or when this nonsense will end, but the situation is unsustainable. Change is in the air. If our citizens take a proactive approach, we can surely make it a change for the better.


劉廼強 | 28th Oct 2009 | China Daily | (40 Reads)

In rejecting G2 to replace G8, China paved the way for the full recognition of G20 as the new global economic forum. This demonstrates once again that China has no desire for dominance even when the role is thrust upon it, as this is in line with traditional Chinese thinking inherited from Lao Tze more than 2,000 years ago.

However, among the G20 China cannot help but shine as an emerging power and the leader among developing countries. This is destined to be China's new position in the international community. Everybody is watching how China would perform in this capacity, but the country still needs getting used to this recent role and its accompanying responsibilities.

Not many people fully appreciate what it means to be a world power, and what it takes to be one. This statement applies to the Chinese people as much as all others. For example, the United States government wants China to act as a "responsible stakeholder", and some in this country echo this view. Little do they realize that should China take up this prescribed role, it would have to behave in such a way to satisfy the criteria of a responsible stakeholder laid down by the US. In short, China will then become part of Pax Americana, and as a result it cannot qualify as a true international power.

That, perhaps, explains why the Chinese government never accepted the "responsible stakeholder" role. China has always been acting in a most responsible manner all along, but in many instances not to the US liking. To Western powers, China never falls in line. But that is China, never content to be a second liner, and aspiring to regain its position as a world power.

Even when China was downright weak and poor, out of national pride, it refused to be subservient to any super-power. It paid a hefty price when Russian expert advisers deserted the country in the late 1950s when Mao Zedong declined to take orders from Stalin. To date, no one blames Mao for making this decision and there is no regret.

To put it more directly, being an international power means not having to follow rules laid down by others. More than that, as an international power it creates rules and institutions. This is what it means to be a world power, and that is how China will behave in this new role.

To the West, I pull a gun at you, and you accept my rules, and that is all it takes to be a world power. Throughout most of recorded history, China has been a world power, but never achieved this prominence through bullying. It did use military force for sure, but invariably in defending its territories and people from neighboring tribes. Its boundaries were expanded by fending off invaders and being garrisoned behind the Great Wall.

China's increasing role in international affairs is because other countries want it to do so. China unwillingly took up the leading role in the Six-Party Talk on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, because all the other five countries desperately need China's participation. Time and again it was China which broke the various deadlocks during the long and tedious negotiations. Recently, Kim Jong-il, the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), wanted to throw away the six-party structure and have direct negotiation with the US, but the latter insisted bilateral talks have to be undertaken within the old framework. Again it took Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to end the stalemate and extract a conditional return to the talks from DPRK.

China wins friends in the Third World because through decades of ups and downs, it has proved itself a loyal friend, treating those countries as equals. The Chinese know what it is to be weak and poor because we have been there before. Our assistance to our Third World brothers is out of empathy and not condescension and self-interest. That is why we always give them what they need, not what we want; in many instances unconditionally and without imposing our values and judgment on them. Even today when China's achievement in national building and economic development is acclaimed worldwide, and many countries try to emulate its success, it repeatedly refused to accept that there is a Chinese model applicable to other countries.

On the other hand, China is open to sharing its developmental experience. China does not want to be rich and prosperous by itself at the expense of everybody else. This is in line with the Confucian philosophy of tui ji ji ren, or doing unto others what one wants to be done unto oneself. According to Deng Xiaoping, socialism is everybody getting rich together.

This is what it takes to be a world power, at least according to the Chinese thinking. This is in line with Chinese wisdom to win international respect through virtue, not coercion. A leader is supposed to take care of the rest, not bully and exploit them. And, that is why China condemns hegemony, because following the traditional Chinese code of conduct this is not the right way to achieve the status of world power or superpower.

The above is a very rough outline of the vision of the harmonious world the Chinese leaders are now trying to construct. It is clear that this is going to be a totally different world from what the West has been building for the past 300 years. From now on, as the new leader in town, China will have more say in drawing up the blueprint for the world's future.


劉廼強 | 24th Oct 2009 | China Daily (Hong Kong Edition) | (14 Reads)

While I am a known staunch supporter of the construction of the high-speed railway linking Shenzhen, I am not supportive of paying too much compensation to reacquire the land in Tsoi Yuen Village for the future repair yard.

The compensation package is too complicated to set out here. In sum, however, it was a whopping HK$2 billion for 25 hectares of agricultural land in a remote area of the city. This was unprecedented and government officials assured us this is a special case that will not re-occur in the future.

While we fully understand the sentimental value of homeland to the 160 households living there for decades, and the hardship involved in their relocation, together with the pressure for a quick settlement on the part of the government to avoid further delay in the much overdue construction, the rules are there and there is a limit to how much they should be bent. Most people across the political spectrum agree that this time our government is bending too much, and it will inevitably set a bad precedent for the future.

Many of the much publicized Ten Major Infrastructure Projects are still in their preliminary stage, and land reacquisition will soon take place in many different parts of Hong Kong. It is unimaginable that the current compensation package will not be used as a reference. In particular, people will make all kinds of excuses to build another “special” case for special treatment, and in the course of doing so, some politicians will be more than happy to lend their helping hands to win votes and influence public decision.

Over-compensating the landlords and tenant villagers in Tsoi Yuen Village will make future negotiations much tougher and of longer duration, and the government will always end up paying more to those who shout the loudest, and who have politicians as their allies. This in turn will spill over into other areas and invite more protests, which will further enhance our culture of crying babies, protesting for anything and everything.

This will become a vicious cycle.


劉廼強 | 22nd Oct 2009 | China Daily (Hong Kong Edition) | (15 Reads)

The Executive Council has just given a green light to the construction of our high-speed railway amid a recent surge of objections. The plan still has to go through the Legislative Council next month to get the necessary funding.

The case for this project is simple: the mainland is building a national network of high-speed railways which will greatly enhance connectivity among major cities in the country, and Hong Kong just cannot afford to be left out of the game. Otherwise the result is certain marginalization. On the other hand, once plugged in, the rail links contribution to future development of the city will be huge. Hong Kong will be more in tune with the country’s rapid growth.

The case against it is somewhat more complicated. There are the usual dissident politicians who will object to anything and want everything. On this issue, they are against the site chosen for the repair yard, and support villagers’ demands for higher compensation, but at the same breath, they seem to want to scrap the entire project. They don’t know what they are talking about, but we all know what they mean.

There is a much larger group of young people who on the face of it look and sound like the dissident politicians. We don’t know what they are talking about, but if listened to carefully, an undertone of class-struggle can clearly be detected. What they really mean is, “I am not happy, because every benefit is likely go to the big real estate developers. I don’t care if Hong Kong will become marginalized to the point of being an agricultural economy, because there is nothing in it for me in the present setting of ‘collusion between government and business’.”

The frustration among the younger generation is real and cannot be ignored. Our government withheld land sales for years pushing real estate prices to world records, while today even the middle-class is deprived the opportunity of buying their own flats and are forced to pay exorbitant rents for living quarters which can only be described as tiny by any standard. The Gini’s Coefficient which measures the income disparity in a society has long been in the danger zone and is getting worse. If I were someone in Yau Ma Tei looking for a job while reading the much publicized story of the HK$500 million duplex, I would say, let’s go to hell.

So far, I have to admit that the West Kowloon Station looks and smells like a re-run of the old real estate scam. It is now up to the government to prove otherwise to gain popular support for the whole project.


劉廼強 | 20th Oct 2009 | SCMP | (16 Reads)

Last Saturday one of the more popular local Chinese newspapers ran Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen as its lead story for the second day running, comparing him to Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's disgraced former president who was convicted of corruption involving millions of dollars. The day before, at least four other Chinese newspapers ran similar stories.

While I am no staunch supporter of Tsang, and don't think much of his latest policy address, I and any objective observer would agree that promoting energy-saving lighting is a step in the right direction.

The charge of conflict of interest is far-fetched, while the one of corruption is preposterous.

In Tsang's case, the allegation of conflict of interest arises because his son's father-in-law owns a controlling interest in a company that represents Philips, a major supplier of energy-saving bulbs in Hong Kong.

The energy-efficient lighting market in Hong Kong is highly competitive with no firm claiming a monopoly position. So we can discard any possibility of preference and collusion in this area, and there is plainly no conflict of interest.

In imperial China, the emperor would punish his officials by executing relatives nine steps removed. Thankfully, in the 21st century, we cannot expect one's interest to extend to in-laws, and as such, that it has to be declared.

Tsang was completely correct not to take his son's in-laws into account, and there was nothing improper about his not mentioning them.

The matter has nothing to do with political sensitivity, as some pundits insist. There has to be a reasonable point at which such disclosure is unnecessary.

I don't know how long this fiasco will go on, but like many of my fellow citizens, I find the noise annoying as it greatly distracts our attention, and that of government officials, from the more serious contents of the policy address and other important matters of the day.

It is highly unfair to Tsang, his immediate family and relatives who are themselves not public figures. It is unnecessarily cruel to put these innocent people in the limelight under such intense scrutiny.

It is also unfair to the Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah, who must now shoulder the responsibility for the alleged political insensitivity for proposing the measure in the first place.

This time Tsang has done exactly the right thing, and citizens should support him in this case. We have the responsibility to set the record straight for future officials and politicians to follow.

The moral of the story is, first of all, dissidents are dissidents, and that is all we can expect from these people. It is up to the rest of us to use our heads to decide what is right or wrong and to put our foot down when necessary.

The dissidents are running out of issues, and are desperate to the point of grasping any false issue that comes along. They are bound to be an even greater nuisance; it is up to us to put an immediate stop to it the moment it emerges.


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