Youth anger may be Hong Kong's most immediate problem: China Daily columnist

A policeman (left) points his pistol during a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, on Feb 9, 2016.
A policeman (left) points his pistol during a clash at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, on Feb 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The government can establish an ad hoc commission with members drawn from frontline social workers, teachers, mental health professionals and community leaders who have shown that they understand the concerns of young people and are willing to listen to their complaints.

By Peter Liang

China Daily/Asia News Network

While Hong Kong is stretching its resources to cope with the rapidly aging population, it is facing what many politicians, educators and social scientists say is a more immediate problem arising from the swelling ranks of disgruntled and disillusioned young people.

In a keynote speech at the two sessions, Mr Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, advised Hong Kong to "engage youth", while pledging "we will extensively and thoroughly participate in work related to young people in Hong Kong and Macau".

In Hong Kong, Mr Bernard Chan, a member of the Executive Council, the highest policymaking body, called on the SAR government to involve young people more in its decision-making process.

He was quoted as saying: "The government needs to make young people feel they are part of the (decision-making) process, rather than just listening to their views on the proposals put forward by the administration".

The urgency to "engage youth" was thrust to the forefront of the government agenda by the riot last month.

Then, a few hundred mainly young activists engaged in a violent confrontation with police at night on the streets of Mong Kok, one of the busiest commercial districts in Hong Kong.

That incident sent shock waves through this hard-nosed business town where most parents believe their children are as concerned as they were about getting ahead in life.

Indeed, it was this sense of complacency leading to parental neglect that has also engendered the tragic prevalence of youth suicide - which has been occurring with alarming frequency in the past couple of years.

This is, of course, a social problem as much as it is a parental problem.

Many young people have complained that they are made to feel they are denied the right to have a say about their own future.

The growing ranks of disillusioned youth could pose a serious challenge to effective governance in Hong Kong, as more and more rebellious young voters are learning to flex their collective political muscles.

The surprisingly strong performance of a candidate who participated in the Mong Kok riot in the recent Legislative Council by-election was enough to convince many political observers that the new breed of anti-establishment radicals has become a political force to be reckoned with.

Although the candidate, who is on bail awaiting trial for rioting, failed to win the by-election, he vowed to return with a bigger force for the full legislature election later this year and predicted his radical group could win at least two seats.

His promise of an "all out" fight with the government in LegCo, or on the streets, has made those ranting opposition members of LegCo seem nothing more threatening than a bunch of nagging nannies.

It can be expected that many more civic leaders and influential commentators will be urging the government to take a high-profile approach in reaching out to youth.

But from their high perches in business or academia, their perceptions of the issues that concern young people most may not be very insightful.

What the government can do is to establish an ad hoc commission with members drawn mainly from frontline social workers, teachers, mental health professionals and community leaders who have shown that they understand the concerns of young people and are willing to listen to their complaints.

It is not so important for such a commission to recommend a comprehensive working plan to engage young people.

This is the job of the government administrators.

Nor should it get involved in finger pointing.

That would simply have the effect of creating even more social conflict.

What the commission can contribute most toward is identifying specific issues troubling young people and recommending ways they can be addressed.

A widely held notion is to blame the economy for pushing many young people over the edge.

The imbalanced economic structure resulting in a widening wealth gap may have been the root cause of rising social discontent.

The government is working on resolving the issue by promoting new industries and enhancing Hong Kong's position as a regional startup hub.

But such efforts will take years to produce results.

The question is what Hong Kong can do now to ease the frustration and anger of a growing number of its young people.

Failing to find the answer may pose a potential threat to future generations.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.