Change in thinking can solve deep-seated issues

Luo Huining, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, visited low-income households living in crammed subdivided residential units, or “cage dwellings”, in Mong Kok, Kowloon, last week. During the visit, he said, “To solve the affordable housing shortage in Hong Kong, on top of matters such as land supply, planning and funding, the crucial, fundamental factor is to understand who the development is for, and we should be able to solve those matters as long as we maintain people-centric development thinking.”

Xia Baolong, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said in a speech on July 16, “It is our sincere hope that, when our nation has achieved the second centennial goal (set for the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049), Hong Kong would have significantly eased its housing shortage and basically bid adieu to subdivided apartments and ‘cage dwellings’ for good.” Regarding ways to achieve this goal, Xia maintained the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” must be strictly followed, along with five requirements for administrators of the HKSAR, of which the third is “be good at doing real work for the people and be a patriot who loves the people as well as the country.”

My understanding of Luo’s comment is that what has prevented Hong Kong from resolving deep-seated problems in economic development and improving people’s well-being is that the people-centric development thinking has yet to be enthusiastically embraced by all stakeholders, particularly some officeholders. To the relief of many, the massive Northern Metropolis plan unveiled by the chief executive in her 2021 Policy Address embodies such a philosophy, which qualifies as a new requirement the central authorities expect Hong Kong administrators to meet.

The patriotic camp in Hong Kong received Luo’s comments and especially the central government’s new requirement for the HKSAR administrators with excitement and appreciation, but others complained that Beijing had started to implement “one country, one system” in Hong Kong according to its brand of development thinking. That is misleading, to say the least.

No doubt the Communist Party of China is firmly committed to its own people-centric governance philosophy. That said, practice remains the ultimate criterion for verifying truth. Through decades of practice, the Chinese mainland has proved the people-centric governance philosophy of the CPC works very well for the country, allowing some people to become rich ahead of most Chinese people but also having lifted hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. Today, the CPC is leading 1.4 billion Chinese people toward common prosperity with great confidence and resolve; whereas many Western countries are mired in a multitude of crises created by their capitalist system. In an editorial published on Dec 31, 2020, the Financial Times points out the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the inadequacy of most Western countries as well as structural defects in the capitalist system. In the previous 40 years, the FT editorial said, people in Western countries did not have stable and adequate incomes from their jobs. On the contrary, their salaries stopped rising for years while their living standards deteriorated relative to the advancements in science and technology. Many inherent problems consistently ignored by Western governments manifested in much higher intensity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, popular demand for reforms of the capitalist system is rising every day, prompting many keen observers to draw comparisons between Western countries and China under the leadership of the CPC with the obvious conclusions.

Since the fourth-term HKSAR government started to abandon the “positive noninterventionism” doctrine, the core problems of the city’s capitalist system inherited from British rule before its return to the motherland in 1997 have been left untouched. Only the relationship between the market and the government has changed slightly. There is still much to be done by the SAR government in terms of becoming more proactive in governance, particularly in tackling deep-seated problems.  

An example of insufficient effort can be found in the shortage of affordable housing and land supply. While dogged obstruction by anti-China subversives and environment conservationists is the main factor in this persistent problem, it is also attributable to the SAR government’s lack of political prowess to overcome the strong resistance of vested interests, particularly of real estate developers, when it has to find land for public or subsidized housing development, which major property developers hate. This and many instances of bureaucratic red tape have contributed to an affordable housing shortage all these years. 

Now that the National Security Law has been enacted in Hong Kong and its electoral system has been improved through local legislation, anti-China forces can no longer obstruct the normal operations of the SAR government. It is now time that the SAR government answered the question, with action as well as words, about who Hong Kong’s development is for. It is hoped that the new Policy Address has kicked off the era of people-centric development. 

We are pleased to see the SAR government is set to devote more effort and resources to significantly easing the housing shortage, as suggested in the just-released 2021 Policy Address by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Millions of Hong Kong residents wish the SAR government the best in accomplishing this daunting task and ambitious goal.

The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.