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The language game

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Sweet and sentimental words and phrases disguise the devastation about to descend on Lantau. Prepare to be overwhelmed, says Peter Sherwood.

As an impoverished journalist in London I was attracted to the public relations business, so I switched sides; an act of betrayal, I agree, but better than continued penury. PR practitioners wrap the craft in magic designed to make us want whatever they are selling. It seems to work.

PR is predicated on the universal truth that perception is reality. In other words, every event in life is neutral. The planet has no opinion. Our individual judgments provide truths for each of us. And so, language, vocabulary, shifts of emphasis and the insertion of facts true or false, and much mumbo-jumbo, influence our perception and shape our reality.

Lantau lies

Hong Kong Government employs a ton of PR people, and while their communication on the development of Lantau is largely drivel and hype, it is wonderfully packaged. Consider this statement from the Lantau Development Advisory Committee (LanDAC) immortalised in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in March 2014.

“LanDAC member Brave [you couldn’t make that up] Chan Yung warned of more local-mainland friction in the border areas if something isn’t done to make the tourist experience smoother.” Meaning: Millions of tourists will flood into Lantau when the glorious Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge is completed. You residents don’t matter and your country park status is irrelevant. Get used to it.

LanDAC directives are typically fluffed up with a selection of fawning baloney designed to impart that warm and fuzzy glow you’re supposed to get after a luxury spa treatment. Cuddly words like ‘beautification’ and ‘enhance’, which in development terms means ‘lots of concrete’, feature a lot, while ‘better utilised’ is PR claptrap for ‘rip out some trees and build something big, like a 3,000-tonne-a-day waste incinerator within a dead pink dolphin’s-length of a marine park’.

In its First-Term Work Report, January 2016, LanDAC revealed plans to “provide visitors with a wide range of ‘journey’ experiences covering various aspects such as nature ecology, culture, heritage, entertainment and tourism”. What this means is shove in tourists like herds of wildebeest and dump them on a beach, or keep them entertained with some tacky tourist stuff, as they crash mindlessly around. Note the continuing joyful emphasis on tourism… and that mainland tourists won’t cross the bridge a few at a time.

The report goes on to say (and I love this): “Existing traffic and transport facilities of Lantau are still lagging behind.” Behind what? It also notes that East Lantau can house “up to a million residents (up from about 60,000) and will create many job opportunities”. I imagine it might, but only if they construct massive office and residential buildings to accommodate these lucky workers.

Little Lantau is about to be overwhelmed by massive infrastructure projects – for LanDAC, “there is no end to evolution” and “drastic change” is a prerequisite. All on a speck of land one-quarter the size of tiny Phuket – with a mountainous 60%. And did I mention that Hong Kong’s birth rate is in decline?

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 17 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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