Let’s face it, much of Hong Kong’s younger generation is in crisis. And who can blame them?

Their economic prospects look bleak, their politics have been highjacked by the central government’s liaison office and their puppet masters in Beijing and their local government has appointed an out-of-touch 37-year-old tycoon to address their multiplying grievances.

Son of flamboyant billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung—who, thanks to the lack of an extradition treaty, is currently using his Hong Kong domicile to dodge a five-year jail sentence in Macau for his part in a HK$20 million bribery scheme involving Macau’s former public works chief, Ao Man-long—Lau Ming-wai seemed a strange choice to head Hong Kong’s Commission on Youth when he was appointed by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying in March of 2015. Nevertheless, Lau, non-executive chairman of the investment group Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. (of which his father is the controlling shareholder) insisted that he possessed the knowledge, the skills and the empathy required for the job.

Lau Mingwai
Lau Ming-wai. File Photo: Stand News.

Three years later, it turns out Lau has none of these qualities and—following the release earlier this month of his commission’s 68-page report on its supposed six-month “consultation” with the city’s youth—Hong Kong young people are as angry and alienated as ever. Indeed, if surveys are anything to go by, 60 per cent of Hongkongers between the ages of 18-29 would pick up stakes and move elsewhere if given half a chance. Asked about the state of the city’s politics, 80 per cent of our young people give an emphatic thumbs down, according to a University of Hong Kong study conducted last year.

Given findings like these, the youth commission report, like so many of the city’s bogus consultations with the hoi polloi, seems yet another empty exercise that is more show than tell. Yes, it highlights some big problems in housing, education, health care and employment—but these are issues that Hongkongers of all ages and stripes have known about for years. Moreover, the report proposes precisely zero solutions to these major social and economic challenges and, tellingly, altogether avoids the city’s corrosive political situation. Surely, unless the city’s dysfunctional politics change, neither will anything else.

In any case, you can say goodbye to Lau, who will be out of a job (at the youth commission, that is, not at Chinese Estates) come April when the newly minted Youth Development Commission— touted as a higher-level, higher-powered assembly of muck-a-mucks chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung— supplants his lesser body.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: LegCo.

The fact of a new commission devoted to youth headed by Hong Kong’s No 2 official is intended to demonstrate a newfound seriousness toward issues affecting the younger generation, as promised by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor prior to her election last March. Instead, however, it represents more of the same—yet another committee likely to conduct more hollow consultations and offer no lasting solutions for the ever-constricting future staring Hong Kong young people in the face.

Lam has already shown us that she is as good at empty gestures as any of her predecessors. Last October, her government made a big show of its recruitment effort to persuade Hongkongers aged 18 to 35 to join its bureaucratic array of advisory committees on everything from narcotics to innovation and technology to the environment. But its hard to see how the co-option of youth into the governmental maze of bureaucracy—which is a big part of the problem, not a path to solutions—is going to do anything to create a brighter, better future for the city’s younger generation.

As long as policy-making is elitist and top-down, we will continue to see appointments like Lau’s and nothing much will change, including widespread public distrust toward just about any government initiative, especially among the young.

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. Photo: In-Media.

If the Hong Kong government wants to win the trust of the younger generation, then it should stop disqualifying young, duly elected lawmakers from the Legislative Council and banning other young idealists such as Agnes Chow Ting from running for public office at all. If not for Chow’s ban—for belonging to a political party, Demosisto, that dares to promote “self-determination” for the city—the 21-year-old activist would almost certainly have won the Hong Kong Island seat in last Sunday’s by-election and would soon be taking her rightful place in Legco. As it is, her designated stand-in—independent Au Nok-hin—won that contest, although Au’s victory is now being challenged in court by a pro-establishment proxy on the grounds that he, too, supports self-determination.

The trust deficit also hits the roof when the justice department engages in targeted prosecution of pro-democracy figures such as the former student leaders of the Occupy movement, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang.

occupy sentence
Photo: InMedia.

Thanks to the department’s misguided legal witch hunt, Hong Kong saw three of the best and the brightest of this generation thrown in jail as human rights groups around the globe voiced their disapproval and alarm.

So there can be little wonder or mystery about the widespread disaffection and sense of estrangement gripping young people in Hong Kong today. As they see it, the Hong Kong they know and love is dying, and the new city rising in its place leaves less and less space for them.

In politics. In education. In housing. In the workplace.


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Kent Ewing is a teacher and writer who has lived in Hong Kong for more than two decades. He has written for the South China Morning Post, The Standard, Asia Times and Asia Sentinel. Allegations to the contrary, he insists he is not a colonial fossil. Follow him on Twitter.