Friday, 20 April 2018

More Lecturing from Beijing

Qiao Xiaoyang says advocating independence is not freedom of speech
We welcome Qiao Xiaoyang to Hong Kong, but perhaps he didn't read the report on the results of a study done by City University the other day that concluded the rise of localism does not mean a lack of patriotism for China.

Qiao is a retired chairman of the national legislature's law committee, and he told 200 top local officials at a closed-door seminar today that he did not consider pro-independence calls to be freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the city's mini constitution.

But Hong Kong's Basic Law allows freedom of speech
One of the attendees was Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. He quoted Qiao as saying: "[Advocating independence] is hurtful to national feelings and contrary to the national constitution.

"Under the constitution, Hong Kong is a region under China's unitary system. So, Hongkongers have the duty to uphold the constitution and shouldn't do anything against the constitution and oppose the unitary system on the mainland."

You gotta love the argument that speaking out for democracy is "hurtful to national feelings". How is that even substantiated? That kind of news would be censored in Chinese media anyway so it wouldn't be hurtful to anyone.

Perhaps Qiao hasn't read Hong Kong's Basic Law? In Article 27 it says: "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication, freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions and to strike".

Ronny Tong was one of 200 who heard Qiao's speech
But maybe no one at this seminar dared to point this out to him.

He also said while the central government would maintain a capitalist system in Hong Kong, it would be unconstitutional to "subvert the socialist system led by the Communist Party", said Wong Kwok-kin, a member of Lam's Executive Council.

Qiao is the second mainland representative within a week to speak at seminars on Hong Kong's constitutional order being part of China, following Beijing's liaison office director Wang Zhimin, who on Sunday hit out at local activists for challenging national sovereignty.

Statements like his continue to breed resentment against Beijing in Hong Kong... it also shows an utter lack of understanding of the city and its people, only expecting them to conform to its demands.

This inevitably leads to more tensions and conflicts that aren't going to get better anytime soon.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Can You Live in 123 Sq Ft?

How small a space can you live in? One developer thinks it's 123 sq ft
We talked about incredible-shrinking flats yesterday and now they're getting smaller. A developer, Wing Kwok Enterprises, will be building a 27-storey residential block in Sham Shui Po where the smallest unit will be 123 square feet.

To put that into perspective, that's smaller than a 20-foot shipping container, or an American-sized parking space.

"At that size, the unit will most likely feature only an open kitchen, and a shower room, which typically add about 10 percent of the total area," said Victor Lai Kin-fai, a managing director of Centaline Surveyors.

Why so small?

"The average square footage price of smaller flats will be higher than larger apartments, which will further encourage developers to build ever smaller units," he said.

Is it no wonder then, that 27 percent of Hongkongers don't expect to ever afford a home, which "definitely deserves everyone's attention," said Nerida Conisbee, chief economist of REA Group, a digital advertising firm that specializes in property.

REA conducted a survey of 1,003 respondents that showed another 16 percent of people have no plan to buy property at all because prices are beyond their reach.

Has Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan actually seen a microflat? Has he spent the night in one to find out first hand what it's like to live in such cramped conditions?

Hong Kong government officials really have no idea what the average Hongkonger goes through on a daily basis...

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Incredible Shrinking Homes

How small a space are you willing to live in? Or rather you can afford?
The housing issue in Hong Kong continues to heat up. In the last day or so, there have been reports that there will be more and more microflats coming into the market in the next few years.

Last year there were 691 units on the market, over eight times more than the 79 in 2015; smaller flats between 215 sq ft and 430 sq ft jumped to 6,200 last year, from 2,056 in 2015. The Hong Kong government forecasts 6,852 private flats smaller than 430 sq ft will be completed this year, accounting for 38 percent of the overall supply of 18,130 private flats this year.

Tiny spaces leave people feeling claustrophobic and depressed
There have been calls to regulate the minimum size -- some of which are smaller than the dimensions of a jail cell here. Our Hong Kong Foundation that's run by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has estimated the average size of private flats completed between 2018 and 2022 would be 681 sq ft, or equivalent to five standard parking space -- an 18 percent decrease from the average of 833 sq ft in the past decade.

Researchers say the trend of building microflats getting smaller will continue. Developers say that's because there is a demand for them, especially from those buyers who want to finally own a home, but at what cost financially and in terms of mental health? How is a tiny cramped space good for one's self esteem? How many years will it take for them to pay off the mortgage?

Pro-government lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen from the Federation of Trade Unions said the government needs to safeguard buyers' rights.

"I know that many buyers now feel regret after purchasing nano flats. Even if the government won't legislate a flat's minimum size, will you consider introducing guidelines about it?" she asked.

How long can someone live in a tiny space like this?
However, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said there was no need to regulate the size of flats because buyers wouldn't be able to afford bigger ones due to rising property prices.

"If we set out some guidelines stipulating the minimum floor area of a flat, it means that aspiring home buyers will face a minimum price for a larger unit. Will they be able to afford this [greater] minimum price? We have big reservations about this," Chan said.

Land supply, he says is the issue. Perhaps that's because the government is constantly pushing its agenda of reclaiming more land on Lantau that has received a lot of opposition because it disrupts the environment and the species that live in the area.

We've been calling for the government to put more effort into re-developing brown sites, but there hasn't been much in the news about it seriously looking into these areas. The sites may seem small, but they add up and it's the more sustainable way to go. And maybe it's time to stop the quota of allowing 150 mainlanders to settle here everyday? Just a thought.

It's time for the government to be more creative; blaming market demand is not the answer.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Localism is not Anti-China

Pushing for greater democracy in HK does not mean being against China
As we've mentioned many times on this blog, the Hong Kong government and Beijing do not understand what young people want for themselves and the city, equating localism with being unpatriotic. And now researchers at City University have confirmed this is wrong.

A team of political scientists questioned the common conception that a rise in localism was making people feel "less Chinese" and "more like Hongkongers". The researchers concluded it was Hongkongers' mistrust of the central government, rather than a lack of a broader Chinese identity that prompted them to resist the motherland.

Chinese leaders jump to conclusions about Hong Kong
Official rhetoric has stepped up against localists, claiming they are "colluding with external forces" to advocate self-determination or independence for Hong Kong. On Sunday the head of Beijing's liaison office, Wang Zhimen, said the lack of a national security legislation was a "major weakness" for the city.

However, research leader Professor Linda Li Che-lan said, "There seems to be a common prejudice in the policy circles that local and national identities are in a zero-sum relationship.

"Critics often equate localism with being unpatriotic. And some think people would love Chinese more if localism could be eliminated. This is very wrong."

She warned Beijing against being bogged down by "misconceptions" and "misdiagnosis", and said top-down demands for patriotism risked pushing more Hongkongers into rejecting their national identity.

People still felt strongly Chinese during 2014 protests
In surveys, people were asked how strongly they identified themselves as being a "Hongkonger" or "Chinese" on a scale of 0 to 10. Scores for local Hong Kong identity hovered around 8 since 1997.

Even during the Occupy protests pushing for greater democracy in 2014 and the surge in localist sentiment in 2015 and 2016, people were still strongly attached to Hong Kong.

What researchers found was a stronger Hong Kong identity meant a stronger Chinese identity and vice versa. "Hongkonger and Chinese identities are not an either/or thing," Li said.

Her team found the biggest factor in the weakening of a feeling of Chinese identity in recent years was people's distrust in Beijing.

"This very strong association suggests that... feeling Chinese and trusting the central government in Beijing has taken on an almost synonymous connotation for many Hong Kong citizens," the paper said.

Li urged the central government to rethink it's policy on Hong Kong. "Rather than stressing its overall control over the city or instilling nationalism, it should try to restore Hong Kong people's confidence in it."

It's funny how it takes an academic paper to explain what we've known all along, but then again this doesn't mean the central government will really examine this paper either, perhaps thinking the researchers are biased.

But it's true -- Beijing should not be ramming patriotism down Hongkongers' throats. It just doesn't work.