[Viewpoint]Constructive demonstrations

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[Viewpoint]Constructive demonstrations

While candlelights filled the streets of Gwanghwamun in Seoul’s downtown last week, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Donald Tsang appointed nine members of civic groups as political assistants to his government. Ranging from labor and welfare to finance, political assistants were appointed to almost all departments. This unprecedented decision caused quite a stir.

Of course, the intention was to allow civilian experts to assist the department heads to develop effective policies and implement them. Some criticized Tsang for the appointments, saying he was trying to please civic groups. Each and every appointee was critical of the government’s policies, thus the criticism appeared reasonable. However, this quickly changed into praise after the background of the appointments was made public the next day.

The nine appointees were all members of the “30s Group,” a forum of young professionals in the city and the “Roundtable Group,” a policy discussion forum led by master’s and doctoral degree students. Both civic groups are formed by the people to monitor and evaluate government policies and to act for the nation’s betterment.

Both groups share the same founding ideology. In 2003, a SARS outbreak troubled Hong Kong’s economy, and society fell into a chaos as 500,000 people marched in the streets for democratization.

At the time, many were critical of the government, saying its failure to handle SARS in the early stages of the outbreak cost hundreds of lives. Then, Laurence L. Li, a lawyer and a Yale alumni, and his friends joined forces to form a group to save Hong Kong.

The young professionals gathered in the 30s Group while students joined the Roundtable Group. They engaged in fierce and serious discussions to figure out how to handle the situation. Some said they should march in the streets during the day and hold candlelight protests at night to make public the incompetence of the government and to push China to allow democratization. Others argued that they should meet government ministers to condemn misgovernment.

Then, the final conclusion came. They agreed that they must study. The subject of the study was Hong Kong. They agreed that they should point out Hong Kong’s problems that they each experienced in their fields and to write reports to reform the city state.

Many agreed that studying policies in effect in Hong Kong and providing alternatives are the strongest ways to enhance the city’s value and competitiveness.

The members of the two groups agreed that they should respect each other’s opinions while expanding their own views.

Over the past five years, the numbers of the two groups grew. They include experts in finance, law, logistics, art, medicine, social welfare and even the entertainment industry.

So far, six reports have been published, and the reports on child care policies and the wealth gap are praised as more specific and insightful than reports created by think tanks in Hong Kong.

More than half of the suggestions have been reflected in policies. That is why Chief Executive Tsang said “Hong Kong’s future lies in the civic groups’ professionalism and expertise.”

July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, is a day of democratization demonstrations. About 40,000 people gathered in the city’s central area and held a demonstration, demanding that the Chinese government adopt direct voting to elect ministers and legislators. Of course, not a single case of violence was reported from this peaceful demonstration. At the time, several core members of the “30s Group” came to the venue to observe the protest. Here is an excerpt of our conversation.

“Why did you participate in the protest?”

“I came here to see what the protesters are upset about.

“Isn’t it natural to hold a protest when the government fails to govern properly?”

“The strongest protest is informing the government about problems it is not aware of.”

“Do you oppose peaceful demonstrations?”

“Just because someone’s opinion differs from mine, I must not disrespect it. All I am saying is that a better way to protest is presenting an alternative.”

“What do you think about the candlelight vigils in Seoul [to protest U.S. beef imports]?”

“Isn’t it more beneficial for the country’s development for the protesters to have a discussion and present an idea to resolve the problem rather than spending time holding demonstrations?”

*The writer is the Hong Kong correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Hyung-kyu
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