About halfway down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, commuters were greeted by the pro-democratic Civic Party’s Tanya Chan and her little helpers handing out leaflets. Or at least Chinese people were. Westerners and others of non-Sinic appearance pointedly received neither a ‘good morning’ (with bow of the head) nor a copy of the glossy brochure. Only the smiling woman handing out the Standard a few streets down eased their disappointment and hurt.
One possible reason is that the well-heeled, cosmopolitan, and in some cases rather anglicized, lawyers of the CP are trying to reach out for the first time to the earthy Cantonese masses in working-class neighbourhoods. They are easing themselves into the slums by starting with residents of Conduit, Robinson and Caine Roads before plucking up the courage to venture across the harbour to the dark satanic public housing estates, where none of them have ever been before. But no – the idea of the delicate and bourgeois CP chasing proletarian votes is too fanciful.
Another is that the leaflet was monolingual. The logic here would be that only people of local ethnicity can vote and/or read Chinese. However, the CP is far and away the most miscegenistic of Hong Kong’s political parties, with some members married to – or even born – barbarians. (“I don’t feel Chinese, I feel British,” one once said after her father, a senior colonial-era judge, made an unconvincing conversion to pro-Beijing patriotism.) They know full well that this district more than any has a multiracial electorate; and that many of its residents of Asiatic appearance are in fact literate only in English while a few of the Westerners can, in a plodding way, read characters. So it’s obviously not that.
This leaves us with only one explanation, and that is that a renegade faction of the CP, inspired perhaps by the recent 60th anniversary of the PRC, are recruiting volunteers to take part in a dastardly plot to bludgeon all the gweilos to death in their beds in the early hours of tomorrow morning. We shall see.
By the standards of the pro-democrats, this would be a reasonably constructive use of time and organizational resources. For over a decade now, they have been engaged in a fruitless fight for universal suffrage. This struggle has its roots in colonial times, when Hongkongers lobbied British officials to install representative government before handing the Big Lychee over to China in 1997. It had some slight success, but even this was reversed, promptly and severely, by the new regime.
Since then, the arguing, pleading, whining, protesting and marching have continued as before, but to ever-decreasing effect. Although they don’t seem to realize it, the pro-democrats are doing the bidding of those in power. Central and local government string them along with a tortuous, meandering constitutional-reform process that never gets anywhere, while all the time running Hong Kong to benefit a few vested interests at the expense of the community as a whole. The fighters for truth and justice get their self-righteous kicks demanding an abstract ideal no communist one-party state will ever give, while bureaucrats and tycoons help themselves to the city’s wealth unopposed.
On the subject of which, nom de plume Mary Ma, the Standard’s editorial, reveals amazing news about one of China’s big infrastructure projects:
The central government is laying a high-speed rail network across the country because it believes the network can increase the national economy by shortening the distance between cities.
That would more than increase the economy: it would overturn the rules of physics, require a drastic re-thinking of Einstein’s theory of relativity and open up the possibility of time travel. But that’s by the by. She is really attacking people who complain about the HK$1.5 billion-per-kilometre cost of our section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong leg of the network. The fear among proponents of the most expensive bit of rail track on Earth is that people like the pro-democrats might stop ranting to themselves about universal suffrage and start – and continue over and over – publicly asking our leaders loud, clear and embarrassing questions.
For example: What will the cost of this be per passenger (or per job created, if that’s going to be dragged in as a justification)? What are the true economic costs of passengers transferring from traditional Kowloon steam locomotive to space-age high-speed train in Shenzhen or Guangzhou, compared with the financial savings from using the existing track?
Or: Which companies will get the contracts? Or whose? Officially, nothing has been signed. But we can be fairly sure that among the main beneficiaries of this enormous outlay will be big state-owned conglomerates from the mainland. And we can just as safely predict that a nice slice will go to companies ultimately controlled by the handful of families whose cartels corner Hong Kong’s property, trading, utilities and other markets. It is the tax the Basic Law says we don’t have to pay to Beijing, plus the usual piece of the action for the ceaselessly and inexplicably favoured plutocracy.
Such transfers of public wealth to politically powerful interests are normal in Hong Kong today, but this one is on a truly audacious scale. So staggering, perhaps, that someone is actually a bit nervous. Mary Ma assures us that “other crucial but less pressing projects” like the railway connecting Hong Kong and Shenzhen airports can wait.
Oh yes – that other all-underground cross-border high-speed railway. According to yesterday’s South China Morning Post, we’re talking HK$50 billion divided by 25 kilometres. We can leave that in reserve for when we need to break another railway price tag world record. (It will serve 7,000 passengers a day transferring between Shenzhen’s frequent and cheap domestic air services and Hong Kong airport’s international connections – a link currently provided by ferries. Of course, Shenzhen airport will offer overseas flights before then anyway, so the trains will be empty. Perhaps even the bureaucrats thinking up ways to channel taxpayers’ funds into tycoons’ wallets balk at this one.)
Mary Ma points her finger at the Civic Party as the main villain in opposing the high-speed link; the Democratic Party gets a pre-emptive pat on the head for “understanding the merits of integration” between Hong Kong people’s money and the usual interests’ pockets. Can the CP tear itself away from discussing ways of enlarging the electoral base of the Election Committee? Can it lower itself to discussing grubby everyday matters like public expenditure priorities? A daunting thought: the CP could be all that stand between our HK$50 billion and the toilet.