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Friday, April 4, 2014 A17

A slam dunk?

Clear road
Freda Fung says the mainland and
HK have a unique chance to curb
pollution by adopting stricter EU
and US vehicle emission standards

Paul Letters says Asia’s economic rise, with China and
India leading the way, doesn’t necessarily mean it will
dominate the 21st century, especially given the other
factors, such as leadership and soft power, at play


he 21st century belongs to
Asia: discuss”. That was the
debate for the inaugural
Asian alumni event for
Oxford University, recently
held in Hong Kong. Oxford dons on both
sides of the motion agreed on the obvious:
China’s military will be taken increasingly
seriously and its economy, together with
India’s, will drive Asia’s rise for some time.
But, ultimately, they also agreed on the less
obvious, which is far more interesting.
Arguing that the 21st century does
indeed belong to Asia, Dr Linda Yueh, the
BBC’s chief business correspondent, suggested that in a span of 30 years, quite a lot
can change. Yes, it can – meaning Asia’s
dominance over the next 86 years is far
from guaranteed.
For starters, we can cancel out both
economics and military hardware. By the
middle of the century, Asia will account for
more than 50 per cent of the world’s gross
domestic product. But although almost
half of Asia’s total will come from China
(and one-third from India), it has been
widely observed that China’s high annual
growth is unsustainable. The Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Develop-

If Asia is to dominate,
its nations will have
to lead the world
on problems such
as climate change
ment estimates that, by 2050, GDP per
capita in China will be roughly half that of
the world’s leading states, and in India and
Indonesia, it will be about a quarter.
Asia in general is ageing, and a continued relaxation of China’s one-child policy will add to the continent’s top and tail
demographics: several billion children
and retirees will all be dependent on a
dwindling proportion of people of working
age. So the world economy will be driven
by Asia throughout the 21st century, but it
won’t belong to Asia.
Yes, China’s military spending is set on
doubling from 2011-2015. (Russia’s has tripled since 2000 and is rising ever faster.)
But America’s spending still dwarfs Russia’s and China’s combined, and the US
lead in military technology and expertise is
not about to disappear. Nor is the fact that,
in addition to Nato, America gains support

through a series of bilateral military alliances. The US has military commitments
with 60 nations, who account for 75 per
cent of the world’s military spending.
Conversely, China doesn’t seek global
hegemony and doesn’t want to risk major
war through an entanglement of obligating alliances; its one military ally, North
Korea, is hard enough work. In any event, it
doesn’t much matter if you’re the world’s
top military power or second or third on
the list: the prospect of mutually assured
destruction nullifies the possibility of
direct confrontation. What matters more
is global reach: China is better placed geographically, but the US has the benefit of
military bases hosted by its far-flung allies.
So we must look beyond the military
and economic. Lord Pattern, former Hong
Kong governor, Oxford University chancellor and chairman of the debate, threw
an idealistic argument against the wind.
He suggested that the 21st century will be
more about ideas than one nation or one
continent – ideas such as sustainable and
inclusive development. However, the politics of identity will continue to cast such
admirable notions aside: nationalism is
going nowhere.
If Asia is to dominate, its nations will
have to lead the world on problems such as
climate change, nuclear proliferation and
failed states. But China isn’t seeking to
dominate global issues and generally prefers to abstain or veto rather than lead. And
we can be sure Beijing will block any suggestion by any fellow Asian nation to
project itself above China on the world
Despite a futile attempt by Professor
Rana Mitter to acclaim a global preference
for dim sum over hamburgers, even the
debate team speaking for the motion conceded that China was not about to overtake Western soft power. For example,
whereas Chinese brands are expanding in
the developing world, they are too often
mistrusted – if known at all – in richer nations. Indeed, in the developed world,
China is far from Asia’s strongest contender in soft power: from electronic goods and
vehicles, to manga cartoons and pop music, Japan and South Korea are well ahead.
Culturally, France and Italy punch above
their weight – and, arguably, above China’s
– as does Britain, whose language, music,
literature and sport are entrenched within
much of the world. Bring in the United
States – from Apple to YouTube and everything in between – and China’s soft power
imprint further diminishes by comparison
to the West.
American values are still protected by
the institutions it created and has led since


the end of the second world war, whereas
China lacks both values and vision for an
alternative world system. Indeed, Beijing is
happy to abide by traditional rules – to the
point that it gets visibly annoyed when
Western powers opportunistically ignore
the centuries-old Westphalian principles
of non-interference.
Compared with much of Asia, including China and India, Western-style governance is generally less corrupt and more
When negotiating in the international
arena, democracies bring a pluralism of
ideas with them – via non-state actors
from civil society, well-known multinational companies and a free media.
China’s political system would have to
undergo revolutionary change to do likewise. Were this to occur, the nation would
be shaken by civil unrest – probably civil

war – and declarations of independence
would follow from some peripheral regions: Xinjiang
, Tibet
, Inner
– and maybe Hong
Kong? The China that would eventually
emerge would, at best, be an unwieldy
democracy – a fragile parody of India.
With or without revolutionary change
for China, no Asian nation looks likely to
“own” the 21st century. However, a century ago, the US was not one of the world’s
top two powers and thus looked unlikely to
dominate the 20th century.
So perhaps we should look further
down today’s list, to around the position
America would have occupied 100 years
ago. And, on that basis, the 21st century
belongs to … Russia?

eople in Hong Kong who care about air quality
should celebrate: on March 1, the government
launched an ex gratia payment scheme that
provides incentives to phase out some 82,000 old and
polluting diesel commercial vehicles. And the end of
March marked the completion of a governmentfunded programme for replacing the catalytic
converters and sensors of petrol and LPG taxis and
light buses. More than 70 per cent of these vehicles
have the new and effective emission control devices
installed. The government deserves praise for
achieving these important milestones on our path to
clean air.
Meanwhile, on the mainland, combating air
pollution has risen to the top of the government’s
agenda. A few weeks ago, Premier Li Keqiang
declared “war on pollution”, with curbing smog a key
focus. Various cities and provinces, including
Shenzhen and Guangdong, have announced plans to
substantially improve air quality and many propose
to scrap old and dirty diesel vehicles to reduce
emissions. Beijing has set a goal to remove more than
14 million “yellow sticker” old, polluting vehicles from
the roads by 2017. There are 20 times the number of
pre-Euro polluting petrol cars and pre-Euro-III diesel
trucks and buses on the mainland’s roads compared
with those registered in Hong Kong.
It makes perfect sense to remove old and highemission vehicles. Pre-Euro-III trucks being phased
out in Hong Kong emit 30 per cent of the total
nitrogen oxide and 80 per cent of the particulate from
vehicle emissions. And “yellow sticker” vehicles
contribute 78 per cent of the nitrogen oxide and more
than half of all particulate emissions from vehicles on
the mainland.
Both governments should make the most of these
vehicle retirement programmes by mandating that all
new vehicles, particularly diesel trucks and buses,
should meet the more stringent EU and US emission
In Europe and America, particulate and nitrogen
oxide emission limits for heavy diesel vehicles are 50
per cent and 80 per cent lower respectively than
Hong Kong’s current standards. Because of the
stricter limits and rigorous testing requirements, all
new trucks and buses sold in the EU and US are fitted
with highly efficient emission-control equipment,
including diesel particulate filters that can
substantially reduce the most dangerous element of
diesel exhaust gases, PM2.5 emissions.
These vehicles function well using low-sulphur
diesel, which is available in Hong Kong and will be
supplied across the mainland by the end of 2015. EU
and US standards also require emission-control
equipment to perform well under all reasonable
driving conditions and for an extended period of time
(10 years, or 700,000 kilometres, for the heaviest
vehicle class).
Millions of old diesel vehicles will be taken off
Hong Kong and mainland China’s roads over the next
few years. This is a unique opportunity to move to a
significantly cleaner fleet. Adopting the stricter and
more effective EU and US emission standards as soon
as possible can help both places reach their air quality
goals earlier, while also better protecting people’s
health. It is time for the governments to act.

Paul Letters is a political commentator
and writer. See

Freda Fung, a consultant with Civic Exchange,
is director of Fung Research Limited

HKU’s new vice chancellor will need all
his fundraising skills to placate critics

Fun idea to boost community
spirit that could run and run


Bernard Chan says ‘Streetathon’ event has all the makings of a big success

ut with the old and in
with the new. The
University of Hong Kong
has bade farewell to vice
chancellor Tsui Lap-chee after 12
years and welcomed his
successor, Peter Mathieson.
Tsui’s departure and the arrival
of his replacement have both
stirred a fair amount of
During his tenure, Tsui was
embroiled in the so-called HKU
818 incident, which eventually
led to him not seeking
reappointment. The incident
involved alleged civil rights
violations during a visit by then
vice-premier Li Keqiang
in August 2011. Li’s arrival at the
university led to a lockdown by
police to prevent anyone from
approaching him. There was
further controversy after a
protocol blunder saw Li seated
in the chancellor’s chair, a
symbol of the highest authority
in the university.
Mathieson’s problem stems
from the fact that he is an
expatriate and hence has been
accused of not understanding
China and local affairs.
However, Tsui and
Mathieson share a common
quality – the ability to raise funds
for a university. Mathieson has
raised over £6 million (HK$77
million) for research from
reputable sources but time will
tell whether he can continue the
good work here. Tsui has an
impressive track record, having
raised billions of dollars for HKU
in his 12 years: around 50,000
donors contributed to
thousands of university projects.
Tsui may not be the best
speech-maker or good at
blowing his own, or another’s,
trumpet. His impressive
fundraising record was down to

Albert Cheng says Mathieson has
a tough task ahead to better Tsui’s
outstanding record, especially given
the difficulties of attracting donors
his determination, perseverance
and sincerity. That is what
moved people to donate.
Unfortunately, his success
has also been his curse. The
university’s faculty of medicine
was named after tycoon Li Kashing, who donated HK$1 billion
in 2005, and the move prompted
criticism from alumni, who
accused Tsui of selling out HKU
by kowtowing to rich and

[Hong Kong’s]
research funding
lags far behind
powerful property developers.
Over the years, many HKUtrained doctors have come to
dominate top positions in
various sectors and benefited
within the government system.
The medical sector maintains a
close circle to protect vested
interests. One example is the
resistance to a Medical Council
proposal to make doctors
undergo compulsory education
and training periodically to
upgrade their skills.
Another is resistance to
allowing qualified overseas
doctors to practise in public

hospitals to help alleviate the
current manpower shortages.
The medical sector has an
ulterior motive: to avoid outside
competition at all costs and
guarantee its long-term benefits.
That’s why I believe the
controversy over the naming of
the medical faculty was simply
manipulation of public
sentiment against the rich at a
time when social conflicts were
at their worst. The instigators’
action showed a disregard of the
urgent need for medical
research funding that brings
benefits to the community at
There is a serious shortfall in
government funding for
scientific research in local
universities, which is
disproportionate to Hong
Kong’s status as an international
financial centre. It is shameful,
but it explains why we are in our
current position years after
declaring we need to change our
economic model. We remain
heavily reliant on our financial
status and the property sector,
and have become prisoners to
Our situation was summed
up well by Tsui, who said Hong
Kong doesn’t lack talent –
especially HKU, which is a
melting pot for talented
individuals from all over the
world. A total of 120 teaching
staff from the university have
been rated by the Institute of
Scientific Information as in the
top 1 per cent of scientists in the

world. This is certainly a reason
for pride for the whole of Hong
But, sadly, our scientific
research funding, amounting to
0.7 per cent of gross domestic
product, lags far behind
international standards and will
remain so if the government
doesn’t change its mindset and
force universities to become selfsufficient.
If we look at overseas
educational institutions, it’s
common practice for them to be
named after donors. For
example, King’s College London
renamed its undergraduate law
school The Dickson Poon School
of Law after the businessman
donated £20 million. It’s even
more common in the United
In Hong Kong, it’s not an
easy task to raise funds for
universities. Tsui stepped down
with a glorious track record. The
new vice chancellor has a
difficult job to prove himself and
overcome the many obstacles
put in his way by the many
hypocrites out there. The pettyminded nature of some and the
negativity surrounding the
naming of the HKU medical
faculty will do nothing to
encourage potential donors to
step forward. That can only
make it harder for local
universities to raise funds. That’s
a burden we must all share.
Albert Cheng King-hon is
a political commentator.
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frequent comment from
runners I know is that
Hong Kong’s annual
marathon lacks a festive
atmosphere and cheering
crowds. In some other cities –
Tokyo is often mentioned – the
marathon is a major civic event.
It seems the whole city comes
out to eat, drink, have fun and
cheer on the runners.
Our main marathon is
limited to an early-morning time
slot and a route along certain
major road links. For runners
from round the world, the urban
scenery probably makes up for
the lack of spectators. But some
visionary people have decided it
would be nice for Hong Kong to
have an annual run designed
around local neighbourhoods
and residents.
The result is the Hong Kong
Streetathon, a 10km run that
took place the weekend before
last in East Kowloon. The event
started and ended near the Kai
Tak Cruise Terminal, which
provided plenty of space for
bands, pre-run yoga, a post-race
picnic and various entertaining
family attractions.
East Kowloon was a good
choice for a fun run. The
residential areas support a
diverse range of businesses. The
formerly industrial parts of
Kwun Tong are increasingly
dedicated to office and retail use,
as the area is transformed into a
new business hub.
East Kowloon is also the
focus of a government plan for a
new business hub away from
northern Hong Kong Island.
Officials are taking steps to
improve the quality of life in the
area and nurture clusters of

artists and creative industries. To
give one example, the
government is turning fencedoff zones under the Kwun Tong
bypass flyover into public space.
A run through the streets
with a carnival atmosphere is
just what a district like this
needs, and the Streetathon
organisers – RunOurCity – were
able to gain government
support. Chief Secretary Carrie
Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was there,
and the event would not have
been possible without extensive
co-operation from authorities
over traffic and other issues.

[The event] is
aimed purely
at Hong Kong
people and
their own
With help from sponsors, the
organisers had the resources to
get the basics in place.
It was a well-organised
occasion. The route included
bridges and side streets, and it
started at 8.30am, so
participants could invite family
and friends along. One nice
touch was that runners could
personalise their bibs rather
than have an anonymous
number on them.
Neighbourhood groups also
provided cheerleaders along the
way. Not least, the event raised
funds for social enterprises in

the Kwun Tong area. The first
Streetathon did not attract huge
numbers of onlookers along the
route. The organisers hope in
the future to encourage more
involvement among local
Anyone involved in events
such as this knows they start
relatively small. (Old-timers look
back with nostalgia to the days
when Oxfam Trailwalker or the
Rugby Sevens were intimate
events relatively unknown
outside Hong Kong.)
But there was a real buzz.
RunOurCity showed it can be
done, and they are thinking
positively. They are looking at
ways to encourage more people,
especially the young, to get into
running. They are also looking at
the possibility of launching a
similar event in the Tsim Sha
Tsui-Yau Ma Tei-Mong Kok
area, possibly using West
Kowloon to host the carnival
To me, this was the
beginning of what could become
a big success. The organisation
was more bottom-up and
decentralised than more
established and corporate
events. And, in an environment
increasingly dominated by the
needs of tourism, it is aimed
purely at Hong Kong people and
their own neighbourhood. The
run and the fun were worthwhile
in themselves, but they also
helped raise funds, which go
back into community projects.
In a city where we hear so much
about problems, it is good to see
something so positive.
Bernard Chan is a member
of the Executive Council