Hong Kong: Amid protest and pandemic, experts warn govt of social unrest among youth

Experts have raised alarm over Hong Kong youths simmering grievances and frustration over Covid-19, which may turn into social unrest.

The pent-up resentment against the government and frustration over the coronavirus pandemic among students has been described as ‘powder keg waiting to go off’, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Lilian Cheng and Tony Cheung writing for SCMP cited an unpublished survey by two universities that found that nearly 90 per cent of students had no confidence in the government.

In a survey of 250 students last year, Chinese University Professor Angel Lai Hor-yan and HKU Professor Terry Lum Yat-sang found 87 per cent reported having no confidence in the government. They warned the city could be engulfed in a crisis similar to the one that erupted two years ago over the now-withdrawn extradition bill and led to the arrest of thousands of students, reported SCMP.

Amid psychological stress from a year of fighting coronavirus and unhealed wounds from 2019 protests could be a potent mix for unrest, suggested Lilian Cheng and Tony Cheung.

Although students were no longer taking to the streets to protest, the administration would be wrong to believe their animosity had died down, warned Paul Yip Siu-fai, chair professor at the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) department of social work and social administration.

Yip attributed the relative calm over the past year to tough social-distancing rules that had kept people at home and the enactment of the national security law in June that threatened heavy punishments for activists.

“Students are trapped at home, with limited social interactions, and the government has done little to consider their mental growth during such a difficult time,” he said.

Professor Daniel Shek Tan-lei, chair professor of applied social sciences at Polytechnic University called for reconciliation between the government and the city’s youth, as well as for officials to acknowledge some of their wrongdoings to rebuild trust.

“The government needs to think of ways to move forward, to reconcile with the young people,” he said.

The analysts agreed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had already taken a step towards reconciliation by promising young people who had joined the often-violent demonstrations that erupted in June of 2019 they would not be tried for their crimes if they admitted their wrongdoing and expressed contrition, reported SCMP.

Since taking office in July 2017, Lam has been keen to demonstrate the government can reconnect with the city’s youth. The government’s think tank, the Central Policy Unit, was restructured as the Policy Innovation and Coordination Office and young people were encouraged to join.

The Commission on Youth, an advisory body, was renamed the Youth Development Commission (YDC), with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung appointed as chairman with the aim of improving the administration’s communication with the younger generation.

Meanwhile, experts suggested authorities to ensure students return as soon as possible to classrooms and sports to help ease the psychological stress arising from confinement during the health crisis, as a short-term solution.

While, in a long-term solution, they suggested the top officials’ open avenues for young people to play a greater role in shaping public policy by joining the ranks of advisory bodies, pro-establishment voices.

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