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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek editorial

OCTOBER 22, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 42

Clean and Creative
That's Tung Chee-hwa's new vision for Hong Kong


    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
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Toward a clean, creative Hong Kong

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One of the many paradoxes about Hong Kong is that its schizophrenic East-West identity is one of its greatest assets. The territory's bicultural heritage allows it to act as a unique interface between China and the world. In his third annual policy address, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa sought to tap that advantage. He outlined major plans for educational and environmental improvements that could make Hong Kong a "world-class" player in the coming knowledge-based era. He also proposed ways to better tap synergies with China. Though there are serious questions about the attainability of Tung's ambitious goals, his blueprint points the territory in the right direction.

For Hong Kong to become a topnotch metropolis, Tung noted, "it is first and foremost necessary to cultivate and retain a critical mass of talented people." That means addressing longstanding complaints that local schools produce graduates who lack appropriate language and critical-thinking skills. Tung has begun to do so by mandating more creative teaching methods, better teacher training and shoring up woefully inadequate primary education. English, de-emphasized in the past two years in a bid to promote mother-tongue schooling, is now back in favor, with a campaign planned to push its use. This is critical for a city as internationally oriented as Hong Kong.

Tung also announced a $3.9-billion scheme to encourage sustainable development and put Hong Kong's air quality on a par with New York or London. The initiative is sorely needed not only to ensure the health of local citizens but also to maintain the territory's status as an economic powerhouse. Executives have been complaining that the haze hanging over the harbor is scaring off some of their best talent. Though citizens' groups have long voiced similar protests, it took corporate clout to goad the authorities into taking significant action.

Stronger links to China are long overdue as well. For over a decade, it has been clear that the mainland is a key resource for Hong Kong's continued success. Previous British administrations failed to promote closer ties with China, and Tung was initially sidetracked from the task by the Asian Economic Crisis. But his proposals to import more mainland high-tech talent and coordinate with Guangdong province on combating cross-border pollution and developing the Pearl River delta are important first steps. Hong Kong's capital, international links, and management and marketing know-how can complement China's technological and human resources to great mutual advantage.

Tung has taken much flak for not directly addressing Hong Kong's still-serious unemployment. In an opinion survey, 31% of respondents thought economic development should be his top priority (just 1.2% named the environment). But the government has already spent much of the past year on creating jobs and re-training workers; it also eased living costs via unprecedented tax rebates and a freeze on public-housing rentals. The rest is up to the natural economic recovery cycle. With public resources stretched thin by the recession, it makes more sense this year to start positioning Hong Kong to compete effectively in the new century.

Much remains to be done. Tung's proposals need to be fleshed out and implemented effectively. The government must also help people who inevitably will be left behind in the move toward a knowledge-based economy. The best answer may be more extensive worker re-training, combined with a wider social safety net. With the economic crisis now abating, the Tung government must start at once on the hard work needed to turn the chief executive's vision into reality.


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

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