Business Community: Shoeshining its Way to Schism?

In his occasional English column, Chris Yeung mentions: the Chinese translation of Alice Poon’s Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong; the “alleged malpractices” of Henderson Land and other developers; the property and related retail and utilities cartels; tycoon Simon Lo Lin-shin’s attempt to build a luxury compound at a Sai Wan beauty spot; the Great Octopus Card Personal Data Sale Massacre; and the Chinese Manufacturers Association’s lobbying of Beijing for the maintenance of functional constituencies.

This is a list that could go on and on, from minimum wage, to Lehman minibonds to supermarket rip-offs. The Hong Kong business community is facing a new surge in skepticism and hostility from what a decade or so ago was a far more acquiescent, even admiring, public. Rising political awareness has much to do with it, but even in boardrooms there is now unease over the unbridled greed being exhibited by certain quarters of the plutocracy. Bauhinia Foundation/General Chamber boss Anthony Wu, one of Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s most remorseless cheerleaders, hinted at some frustration when he recently suggested that all this anti-business sentiment is, at heart, anti-developer.

Yeung says “the business sector is waking up to the winds of change,” and points to a recent interest in charitableness and social responsibility (or at least public image) among companies and business groups, notably developers. He cites the best example of the futility of this approach: tycoon-politician James Tien’s plans for a Victorian-sounding business fund for the deprived elderly and young. This idea is not so much cynical as – inevitably from Tien – simple-minded and slimy. After cheating and overcharging consumers, the cartels will now hand a little rebate back in the form of a donation to the poor, and that will stop us from coming and stringing them up from lamp-posts someday. It’s as desperate as the boss of New World buying a has-been newspaper ‘to protect the rights of developers’.

As Yeung essentially concludes, the tycoons simply don’t get it so long as they are unable to “embrace society’s emerging core values such as environmental protection (the Sai Wan case) and fair and equal voting rights (functional constituency election).”

Why don’t some members of the business community – the majority who are as much victims of price-gouging property tycoons as everyone else – identify themselves with the rest of the population/economy? Why don’t some local or overseas-born entrepreneurs, investors and managers stand up and say: “Hong Kong’s businesses and middle class are forced to buy over-priced accommodation, goods and services from the property tycoons. The cartels get rich, the rest of us are all the poorer. How does this help Hong Kong?”

Eventually, some business figures – notably with political ambitions – will come forward and speak out along these lines (as Chief Executive hopeful CY Leung more or less has). But they still have a lot to be nervous about.

First, would Beijing approve? Since the 1980s, the Communist Party has worked on the misapprehension that Hong Kong’s wealthiest families create the city’s wealth. Clearer signals that Beijing is questioning this assumption would encourage pro-establishment people to say what they really think of the property sector. Until then, the shoeshining instinct, united front and peer pressure will keep them silent.

Second, what would the property giants do to them? Even if they lacked clout in Beijing, the big tycoons have assumed commanding positions as suppliers and buyers of goods and services in much of Hong Kong’s domestic economy. In theory, they could make life difficult for a small or medium-sized business in many sectors. They have also accumulated multiple votes in many (probably nearly all) of the small-circle functional constituencies where many politically ambitious businessmen get their first taste of public affairs. Not least, they have acquired an entitlement mentality as powerful as that of public housing tenants or civil servants: these rigged markets are theirs by right. You’d be better off kicking a mama bear’s cubs. It is no secret that they intimidate (typically via an intermediary).

Still, if public opinion continues to mount against the corporate world in general, business figures who want to be loved will have no choice but to distance themselves from the true scoundrels and common enemy. Unlike the split among the pan-democrats, such a division could represent major shifts in the local political and economic scenes. Needless to say, the big tycoons have a massive interest in making sure it doesn’t happen.

On the subject of Anthony Wu…

In today’s Standard, the Bauhinia Foundation/General Chamber boss laments the departure of Shane Solomon, chief executive of the Hospital Authority, of which Wu finds time to be Chairman. He says:

“As a foreigner, he performed perfectly during his term.”

Which the barbarian (an Australian) will no doubt rush to put in his resume. The quote comes from an interview with Sing Tao, a Chinese-language milieu, in which superfluous allusions to ethnicity are perhaps not considered gauche.

What else could Wu say about Solomon? How about…

“As a foreigner, he wasn’t at all fat-looking.”

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20 Responses to Business Community: Shoeshining its Way to Schism?

  1. Grumpy says:

    A question more related to yesterday… Does anyone have a list of the directors of Octopus? Can’t seem to find it on the web, and too lazy to hoof down to CR…

  2. Prudence says:

    Have you tried here…

  3. Doctor Duopoly says:

    Better off kicking a mama bear’s cubs. An excellent metaphor for the defensive mechanisms of the big players. Can anyone clearly remember Jimmy Lai’s AdMart, the no-bricks-and-mortar, free-home-delivery online supermarket of the early 2000’s? No, I can’t either. It folded in less than two years in the face of ‘pressure’ on distributors and a lack of suitable godown storage space for the stock (the landlords being you-know-who). Wellcome and Park N’Shop were both quick to slash selected prices and introduce ‘free’ home delivery for a short time as well — until AdMart folded.

  4. Grumpy says:

    Thanks, Prudence… the first place I looked – but it is not listed and not a statutory body, so does not appear to be there…

  5. Sir Crispin says:

    Has anyone else noticed the dichotomy of the communist party supporting tycoons in HK? Aren’t they supposed to be on the side of us lowly peasants and seizing property from the landed classes?

  6. Grumpy says:

    Thanks Gunlaw, but it STILL doesn’t say who the Directors are… why are they so coy..?

  7. Michael Corleone says:

    “Our true enemy has yet to reveal himself.”

  8. Historian says:

    The truth is that ‘as a Foreigner’, Solomon was the only person qualified for the HA job.

  9. Sir Crispin says:

    Or maybe the locals all new what a clusterf#ck the HospAuth was and no one applied, best to leave the mess to an unwitting foreigner.

  10. isomoliu says:

    More examples of unwitting foreigners (specifically westerners) drafted in to do what the locals are not capable of: SFC, West Kowloon and, Hemlock’s favourite, bomb disposal. Gweilo executives are great for LegCo questionings. After the tortuous process of having the question translated into English and the answer translated back into Cantonese, everyone has lost track of what the question was about.

  11. FB3 says:

    Re the Tycoons, Beijing holds all the cards.

    They all want more business on the Mainland & its not too difficult for Beijing to make this more difficult for them if public opinion wakes up & realizes there is little chance of prosperity when they are being bent over & buggered by LKS et al.

    The smart mainland tycoons are probably whispering in Beijings ear right now about the bad joss these robbers bring.

  12. The Prodigal Son says:

    Kudos to Doctor Duopoly for dredging up the memory of AdMart, I had almost forgotten it existed.

    These viceroys aren’t doing a good enough job, the question is whether the crown will deign to intervene as it did with CH Tung.

    Beijing is happy to mix things up if ‘harmony’ is impacted. The question is whether these rumblings are the start of a quake large enough to catch their attention.

  13. Twang says:

    You can go on the company registry website and download a list of the current directors (called “company particulars”) for a few dollars.

  14. Che says:

    No interfiera en la revolución. La ira de la gente tiene que crecer. ¡Viva la revolución.

  15. Grumpy says:

    Thanks Twang, just done it….
    (But it does beg the question about why they are all so coy..)

    so – name and shame time:
    Michael John Arnold
    R J Blake
    Prudence Chan
    Andrew Chi Fai Chan
    Kenrick Fok Choi Fook
    Alexander Reid Hamilton
    William Ho Sai Kei
    Hui Yip Hung eric
    Kam chak Pui
    Kwan Chuk Fai
    Lai Daniel
    Leung Kwok Kuen Lincoln
    Luk Koon Hoo
    McCusker Andrew
    Ng Chi Kwan

    – with all that manpower, how did they not notice what as going on?? It would be churlish to point out that Alexander Hamilton was also a director (and ran the audit committee) at Citic Pacific -another organisation where the Board and auditors failed to notice what was happening….

  16. Maugrim says:

    The irony about Wu’s comments is that he doesn’t exactly look svelte himself. Maybe a touch of western blood perhaps?

  17. Stefano4459 says:

    Really now folks! Solomon was just kindly displaying the wisdom (or cunning – depends on your point of view + ethnicity) of his glorious namesake (The KING) and decided to hoof back to Oz after collecting enough moolah in 4 and half years that would have taken him 20 to accumulate back there. Smart guy – these foreigners – so admirable.

  18. Plod says:

    And that septuagenrian fella they brought back to run KCRC after the mess Tien Younger made of it pre-merger.

    The Police Force still traditionally sends gweilos to Legco ‘whipping sessions’ for the very reason isomoliu states. Sound tactics I say.

  19. Peter B says:

    I think Chris Yeung deserves credit for this article. Well spoken out ( but I do hope Cheung Kong is not his landlord…)

    BTW : Did anyone read yesterday’s Sunday SCMP : the big property tycoons are commissioning a survey to find out what people think about them. Even got Ogivly to do the job for them : must be an expensive survey ! . I can tell them for free what 99.9999% of HK people think of them ( the other .00001 % being the tycoons, their families and the lands dept ***- lickers on their secret ” retirement jobs for the boys” payroll ) You are greedy, market manipulating B#$%$@S ( excuse my french )

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