Equal Opportunities Commission


Chairperson’s Articles

How did Hong Kong score on racial equality and inclusion in 2023?


Undoubtedly, 2023 was a year of hitting the restart button after the pause imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are still challenges on many fronts, not just for Hong Kong, but also for many places around the world. On a positive note, though, the pause made us take a fresh look at long-held practices and called for creative approaches to tackle ongoing challenges.

As the chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong, here is my take on what has been happening in terms of racial equality and inclusion. While there have been positive developments in certain areas, some ongoing challenges need to be addressed to remove barriers.

In 2022, the "2021 Population Census — Thematic Report: Ethnic Minorities" was released. One encouraging finding in this report is the remarkable progress in education seen among the non-Chinese population aged 18-24. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of non-Chinese youth in this age range benefiting from education has increased from 38.4 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2021. This suggests that more opportunities are being enjoyed by non-Chinese individuals to pursue postsecondary education.

Furthermore, there has been an increase in the number of non-Chinese individuals who can read and write Chinese. In terms of reading, the percentage has reached 40 percent, while in writing, it stands at 36 percent. Though not yet the majority, the share of ethnic minority population that has Chinese reading and writing proficiency has expanded, which suggests that efforts in this direction are yielding positive results.

Regardless of the upward swing, it is important to acknowledge the challenges faced by non-Chinese individuals in learning the Chinese language. Feedback collected in our group interview sessions with 22 locally educated non-Chinese university students indicated that 90 percent of them found their Chinese proficiency level largely inadequate for mainstream workplaces. Additionally, less than 10 percent of all non-Chinese students in local secondary schools are studying the mainstream Chinese curriculum for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination. This creates a discrepancy between proficiency acquired and proficiency demanded for jobs.

Hence, language proficiency remains a significant barrier for job aspirants from ethnic minority backgrounds. Many job opportunities require proficiency in Cantonese and, increasingly, Putonghua (Mandarin), as Hong Kong seeks closer integration with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the rest of the mainland. Bias and prejudice in hiring decisions further compound the challenges faced by ethnic minorities. In the Policy Address, HKSAR government departments are now encouraged to design their own language tests tailored to job requirements, providing applicants with alternative ways to meet language proficiency requirements. The Civil Service Bureau has also provided basic workplace Chinese training for its ethnic minority interns, creating opportunities for them to pursue civil service jobs. We hope this can motivate other public organizations and those in the private sector to follow suit.

In fact, we are seeing the private sector, particularly large international companies, prioritize racial diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices and overall employee experience. This has resulted in increased internship opportunities for students from minority backgrounds and more conversations on innovative job-vacancy posting strategies and nondiscriminatory hiring practices. The number of signatories to the Equal Opportunities Commission's Racial Diversity & Inclusion Charter for Employers had also grown to 400 by the end of 2023, representing a 50 percent increase from the previous year. It is time to move the needle further to make racial equality and inclusion an integral part of workplace culture.

Family and healthcare support is another critical issue affecting both the general population and ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong. A tragic South Asian family incident in June 2023 raised awareness about the dire family support needs among ethnic minorities. Recognizing this, the Policy Address delivered in October announced the establishment of specific counseling services for the ethnic minority community. Additionally, Care Teams will be formed to reach out to those in need. We appreciate the progress and strongly advise that cultural sensitivity and cultural appropriateness be built into the service delivery.

In a significant milestone, the recent district council appointments in December saw the appointment of two ethnic-minority district councilors. This achievement should not be understated, as having a seat at the table is a crucial step toward being heard. We wish these newly appointed district councilors success in serving as a connection between the government and the people, ensuring effective communication as they work toward bringing tangible improvements to their communities.

2024 marks the 15th anniversary of the implementation of the Race Discrimination Ordinance, a seminal moment in Hong Kong's progress toward racial equality and inclusion. While there have been developments in education, mental health services, language proficiency support and the private sector's commitment to diversity and inclusion, there are still challenges to overcome. It is imperative that we continue to work together to create an inclusive society where everyone, regardless of their ethnic background, can thrive and contribute to Hong Kong's success.


The article  is published in China Daily on 5 February 2024 with an altered title.