Opinion: "Celebrating Hong Kong"

To celebrate its 110 years of existence Hong Kong's leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, has launched a "Campaign to Celebrate Hong Kong."

This is supposed to be a civic boosterish celebration of the city's culture, history and the unsung deeds of ordinary people. It is supposed to be, according to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, a "great way to bring people together."

It is one of those "great ways to bring people together" practiced more often by the Straits Times of Singapore, the captive monkey grinding the organ for the Singapore government. As with this one, "great ways to bring people together" are usually met with derision by Singaporean citizens. Hortatory campaigns have equally little place in a city as complex as Hong Kong is.

There is plenty in this city that doesn't work at all. Instead the paper should be turning its considerable reporting resources to forcing improvement in the schools, where English language skills are deteriorating and threatening the territory's status as an international city. It should be holding government accountable for the dreadful condition of the water, and questioning why a Chinese military base is being built on a promenade promised to be an unbroken walkway for an overcrowded citizenry between Central and the Exhibition Center.

It was Peter Finley Dunne's observation that it is a newspaper's business to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Far too often the South China Morning Post gets it backward.

Moreover, a glance at the identities of the persons chosen by the SCMP to be in the forefront of the launch of the campaign reveals it as an attempt to drum up support for several of the very forces most subject to popular dissatisfaction in Hong Kong. Instead of looking forward and celebrating today's dynamic people and those most closely connected to the city's sense of identity it is almost a roll-call of yesterday's men. The head of the panel to judge the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards to be presented as part of the campaign is 86-year-old former British former civil servant Sir David Akers-Jones.

Unlike other British colonial officials who took appropriately low profiles after retirement, Akers-Jones parlayed his contacts with Beijing into multiple quasi-official appointments, of which this is the latest.

As a civil servant, Akers-Jones is mainly remembered for his close association with the feudal rulers of the New Territories, the Heung Yee Kuk, and for initiating the so-called Small House policy which enabled so-called indigenous villagers to despoil the New Territories. The policy is now widely recognized as disastrous but the government is unwilling to take on the Heung Yee Kuk.

Next are the predictable representatives of a banking sector, which has long enjoyed a very comfortable oligopoly at the expense of ordinary people and businesses. In this case it is Standard Chartered chief executive Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng. Then there are the representatives of family business dynasties including Wheelock Marden's Peter Woo, heir to part of the Pao empire, and Douglas Woo, Victor Tin of property developer Sino Land, Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, Malaysian tycoon and SCMP owner Robert Kuok, and Alex Arena, managing director of the quasi-monopolistic telecom operator PCCW, a company controlled headed by the son of tycoon Li Ka-shing.

Add in a few other establishment figures and public relations types and there you have the group of yesterday's men supposed to inspire younger and better educated generations.

All in all it shows just how out of touch the Hong Kong establishment is with society today. As for the SCMP this is not surprising as its editor and several of senior executives are not from Hong Kong at all but think that being ethnic Chinese automatically makes them Hong Kongers.