Politicians and public figures from a range of backgrounds take turns to have their say on important matters of the day in this personal view programme.
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Podcast: Updated weekly and available after broadcast.
Just the other day, someone asked me a question many had asked before, “What is the biggest challenge to the success of One Country Two Systems?” The answer came to me almost instantly: without a doubt, lies and misinformation. You may ask, aren’t they the same thing? No, they are not; misinformation may be accidental, but lies are deliberate. Yes, there are people out there who are planning and scheming every day to destroy the One Country Two Systems. And their lies are deliberate. You may think I am being paranoid, but there is no other way to explain the amount of lies and misinformation our community is being fed every day. Most of these lies and misinformation cannot be anything but deliberate falsehood. Examples are abound.
Take the example of the so called One Way Permit system by which children of Hong Kong residents are systemically allowed to come to Hong Kong to unite with their parents. Even today, almost 20 years after its introduction and operation, there are still people who firmly believe the system was designed to facilitate Mainland residents who had no connection with Hong Kong to come to Hong Kong with the sole aim of robbing jobs, housing and other social welfare rights of Hong Kong people. And we are not just talking about mistaken beliefs of the man in the street, but highly educated people, politicians and legislators, some even with long standing legal background. What is most shocking is that the facts are more often than not, open and plain for all to see. And yet, there are still so called opinion leaders and even legislators who choose to believe the opposite.
What happened in 2019 is another obvious example. A certain newspaper invented the slogan, “send back to China” (“送中”)to twist an amendment to the law as regards extradition of foreign criminals into an evil scheme to send Hong Kong people back to China to be persecuted. It was an obvious lie; and yet, tens of thousands if not millions of people, some highly educated, believed it, so much so people were willing to destroy everything in their path, commit arson, kill and maim innocent bystander because of it. I have not, of course, forgotten most overseas media and governments also either believed the lie or didn’t care to find out the truth. Together, they helped fan the anger and hate in the community until it reached a crescendo that brought us to the brink of total disintegration.
Can these governments, media, politicians and opinion leaders not tell the difference between truth and lie? Of course they can. So it was not an accident, or carelessness, but deliberate action. Can these horrible things be avoided? Theoretically yes, but we need honest politicians and impartial media committed to making the One Country Two Systems a success; and we are lacking in both.
You may say, there must be something that can be done to stop politicians, opinion leaders and the media from telling lies or spreading misinformation to mislead the public. Again, theoretically yes, but next to impossible in real life, especially under the One Country Two Systems. Why? Because immediately such measures will attract a sinister label of limiting or even destroying freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Under the One Country Two Systems, these freedoms are the most highly guarded core values any challenge of which will bring on the perception of deviating from, if not the demise of, the One Country Two Systems. In other words, there are people out there who know precisely how to weaponize our inherent conflicts under the Two Systems and turn our most revered core values into a formidable tool to dismantle our One Country Two Systems.
So are our hands tied and there is nothing we can do? Not exactly. We can and must fight them at their battle ground. Communicating with the public has never been the strong suit of successive administrations since the Handover. In fact, it has always been our weakest link. We must change that. First, we must build up a suitable network of channels of communication and consultation with the public. The British did that quite well in the colonial days; there is no reason why it can’t be done again.
Secondly, the government must devote more resources to strengthen its ability to refute untruths and misinformation. There should be set up a public relation office or a central policy unit where lies and misinformation are quickly dealt with and corrected and not allowed to ferment and proliferate.
Thirdly,we must also realize government action alone is not enough. If people distrust the Government, they will not be easily convinced by Government officials or agencies. There is a role for non-government agencies here. I am referring to think tanks and other private sector opinion leaders and media with a conscience. The Government must forge a good relationship with such private sector allies. I am not just talking about information or intelligence sharing, but mutual support materially and spiritually.
Finally, there must also be more in depth research and studies of policies and their ramifications. There are simply not enough resources devoted to this kind of work within the Government at the moment. Where appropriate, there should be more contracting out of such projects to think tanks in the private sector. This is not unusual in other countries and certainly the Central Government places a lot more reliance and emphasis on think tanks than the SAR Government ever did.
The internet has brought along a whole new era of sharing a wealth of information at the touch of a finger tip. News travels fast and far, but sadly untruths and misinformation travel even quicker and further. Nowadays, wars are fought and won not by guns and rockets but by lies and misinformation. The Government must adopt a whole new perspective and a new way of thinking to tackle lies and misinformation. For the very survival of our One Country Two Systems depends on it.