Depending on the translation into English, Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday told Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to resolve the city’s ‘conflicts’ or ‘contradictions’, though everyone seems to agree that the con-whatevers are ‘deeply rooted’. The latter is probably the more accurate, provided we understand what Chinese leaders mean when they use the word ‘contradiction’: a problem we can’t pin on renegade provinces, hostile foreign forces or splittists. A difficulty that – their own system and personnel being flawless – has no obvious cause and logically should not exist. He also urges Sir Bow-Tie to handle constitutional reform in a ‘proper’ or ‘appropriate’ way, when it is obvious that Beijing is ordering the hapless leadership of the Big Lychee to implement no meaningful political changes at all.
Waddling around wrapped up like little Eskimos in the chilly rain, most Hong Kong people probably shrug off Wen’s delphic blather, but the chattering classes cannot resist speculating on what he was really saying. That it is a criticism of Donald is beyond doubt, especially when contrasted with the lavish praise heaped on the corruption-plagued administration of gambling- and money laundering-hub Macau. But what are these contradictions that so vex the amiable Premier? Pro-Beijing types claim it is something to do with Hong Kong being marginalized owing to insufficient integration/cooperation/partnership/blah blah. Pro-democrats like to think Wen means public dissatisfaction with the lack of political reform, or at least the growing wealth gap. Tsang himself maintains the subject is the need for economic diversification.
These are not mutually exclusive. The narrow and partly stagnant base of the Hong Kong economy benefits a few players handsomely but depresses prospects for many individuals and businesses. This is a contradiction; after 12 years, it is too late to lament it as a British legacy, but Chinese sovereignty is perfect, so that can’t be to blame either.
Patriots and China-beguiled foreigners see no way out but greater absorption into and reliance on the mainland and its tourists, infrastructure, Yuan and Five Year Plans. Free thinkers would prefer Hong Kong to open up new opportunities through internal structural reform, such as scrapping the high land-price policy and breaking up the cartels. This is a conflict: the first option is about top-down government that works in hand with favoured sectors; the second is about government that is accountable to the people and has a mandate to attack privileged vested interests.
No prizes for guessing which way we are supposed to go. Hong Kong has economic problems because Beijing won’t let the city fix them.