"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
Negativity is the new norm in Hong Kong. This is a remarkable reversal from the situation I found when I arrived 35 years ago. I suspect that all sectors, except the super rich and a few isolated senior civil servants, are suffering. To me the reasons are simple. A complete failure to tackle the massive wealth gap. The protection of vested interests, who exploit the majority to further enlarge their wealth. The tiny flats built with shoddy materials; the appalling air pollution. A government that lacks legitimacy. Finally, the gradual breakdown of social cohesion.
The examples of poor governance grow by the week. The lead in the water, major project overruns, the inability to enforce even simple laws and a lack of proper welfare for the old folks.
Except that Hong Kong is still a pretty awesome place to live. It's relatively crime free. The kids don’t get shot at school, whilst the food is awesome. Public transport is very cheap, efficient, clean and does the job of moving millions every day. Unemployment is low by any standard and the medical care is there when you need it. So what’s the issue? Why are we so bipolar on the state of Hong Kong?
Part of the problem is that the Hong Kong government is weak. Not in technical capacity nor in its ability to deliver services, but in a moral sense. It has a deficit of legitimacy. Without the ability to elect the Chief Executive, a good part of the public view the government as lacking authority to command. The Chief Executive is seen as a vassal, who owns allegiance to Beijing. The Hong Kong people are a secondary concern.
Except that Beijing has pretty much kept its part of the bargain. Except for a few incidents Hong Kong has enjoyed the autonomy promised. Moreover, Beijing has offered many advantages to Hong Kong in trade and tourism. After the SARS crisis of 2003, China immediately instigated moves that boosted tourism and trade. This allowed the economy to bounce back in short order.
The latest manifestation of negativity is the calls for independence. Senseless in the extreme, these calls arise from frustration. And coupled with a complete lack of comprehension of Hong Kong’s position. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the independence seekers for demonstrating extreme levels of heroic ignorance. These people don’t get it. Hong Kong is not joined at the hip to the Mainland but by every sinew and nerve.
Our water, food, power and very existence depend on the Mainland. Our economy is a parasite that feeds off the Mainland. Cut off the host, then Hong Kong dies. The desire for independence lays bare these facts. The fundamentalists refuse to recognise the rational, factual, weakness of their position. An awful embarrassment awaits them if their prayers are ever answered.
Wake up and smell the roses. Yes, there are significant problems in Hong Kong’s governance. Yes, the underprivileged need help, whilst the business cartels must be broken up. Yet, the positives and opportunities abound. When you dwell on the negative and portray yourself as a victim, the outcome will be negative. The mindset is everything. What you think is what you become. If you think negative, you become negative. Hong Kong needs to flip its Zeitgeist to positive.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.