Here’s a simple question: will Hong Kong’s youth be developed following the establishment of Carrie Lam’s Youth Development Commission. And here’s the simple answer: no.
There are a number of reasons why it’s possible to be so certain of this but let’s start with what might be described as the structural reasons. This committee contains no less than 42 members; it can be said with confidence that no committee as large and unwieldy as this can possible function coherently.
Secondly, almost a quarter of the members (eight in total) are policy secretaries. Aside from the obvious fact that these bureaucrats already have far too many committee meetings to attend and are therefore unlikely to be giving this nebulous body much priority, there is the question of their input.
People who have served on government committees will tell you that the main role of the bureaucrats is to inform ‘non-official’ members why practically any innovative idea cannot be put into practice. They come to meetings armed with copious briefs outlining the difficulties of doing anything that has not been done before.
Then there are the commission’s terms of reference which are vague to the point of being meaningless, including reviewing, formulating and implanting youth-related policies, facilitating coordination, consultation and, of course the old bureaucrats favourite: setting up task forces.
Even were there a better structure, this commission could not avoid the central improbability of its task. The reason being that this body was established to somehow persuade Hong Kong’s youth that there is no cause for their dissatisfaction and, more importantly, no cause to take to the streets again as they did in their hundreds of thousands during the Occupy Movement.
Indeed, the very motive behind this initiative was the shock delivered to the government when it realised that so many young people were politically engaged and were prepared to do something about it. Surveys of youth attitudes have consistently shown that large majorities are very alienated from the government, some to the extent of desiring to leave Hong Kong altogether.
Crucially, as far as Ms Lam and her allies are concerned, young people are simply not buying the relentless patriotic propaganda onslaught and most of them self identify as being Hongkongers above the officially favoured definition of either being Chinese or perhaps Hong Kong Chinese.
Where persuasion is failing the government is all to ready to use sterner measures, as has been seen with increasing numbers of young people going to jail for political reasons, new laws proposed for use of the national anthem and pending laws to come on both national education and subversion.
The youth commission is supposed to be part of the softer approach and we can no doubt look forward to a large array of events aimed at extinguishing the political fervour of the young and designed to enhance identification with the Motherland.
The new body replaces the old Commission of Youth, which lasted for 28 years and can comfortably have its achievements written on the back of a postage stamp.
The abysmal failure of this body has been rewarded by transferring 14 of its members to the new committee.
The tycoon son Lau Ming-wai was chairman of the old committee but he has been replaced by Matthew Cheung, the Chief Secretary for Administration, as chairman of the new commission and been demoted to the role of Vice-Chairman. He will sit on the new body with a number of other rich kids, such as Kenneth Fok and Kenneth Leung. The tycoon class is well represented on nearly all major government bodies. This is because, whatever happens, the interests of the rich must be protected.
The other ‘non-official’ members are largely composed of the usual assembly of government placeholders with the customary sops to suggest inclusiveness such as including a single democrat alongside a single member of one of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities.
The only really young member is the university student Cheng Hong-wun. Mr Cheng’s appointment came through the wonderfully named Pilot Member Self-recommendation Scheme for Youth. And why was he chosen? Well, Mr Cheng was one of the few young people who sat out the Occupy Movement and took to social media to criticise it – his criticism has finally brought its ‘reward’.
Meanwhile the only really interesting member of this group is Louise Kwong, a soprano who lives in Italy where she works at the Rome Opera House, no doubt she will be keen to frequently abandon her duties in Rome to attend meetings in Hong Kong.
So, there we are, just a few reasons why this new body is doomed to failure but you can be pretty sure that its work will be presented as a glittering success because, in the minds of bureaucrats, no problem is too large not to be solved by establishing a committee and the very establishment of a committee is, generally speaking, regarded as being an end in itself.