North Korea ponders the launch of World War III. On RTHK this morning, a commentator from Lingnan University speculates that the South could retaliate with missiles, but “not necessarily” ones with nuclear warheads. I had been wondering whether it was worth bothering to have a shower. After hearing this reassurance, I go ahead.
As a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, it is only fitting that we in Hong Kong take our cue from Beijing and essentially shrug off the shelling of civilians on Yeonpyeong Island as if it were one of those little things we can be oblivious to, like a spot of rain interrupting a minor golf tournament in a distant land. We take note of the relevant report, express concern, call on relevant parties to do more to contribute to peace and stability and probably harmony and virtue – and drift on by, on to more interesting, and relevant, matters.
Which in the Big Lychee has to mean real estate. The government’s recent measures to cool the property bubble remain the hot topic. Some people angrily denounce the hefty new stamp duties on speculators as flying in the face of economic logic. With transactions and prices falling overnight it could be that the prospects of a devastating, full-blown crash have declined, but this sort of cooling policy doesn’t work in theory, so it must be wrong. Others are also disappointed that the full-blown crash when it comes will be that much less entertaining.
Such complaints assume that the government sees economic logic as one of its duties, which this one clearly does not (and the ceaseless entertainment it delivers is no more than a happy by-product of its work). Before long, the latest public approval ratings will appear and show Tsangs John and Donald getting the thumbs up from an appreciative citizenry because of this decisive action, and that’s the main thing. This is an economy in which the currency peg denies the authorities the right to raise interest rates, and mysterious forces apparently emanating from a parallel universe compel officials to ensure that inhabitants must never be allowed to have sufficient housing. Given this, we should be thankful for any policy, however deranged.
As a free, added, no-extra-charge bonus, the bubble-deflating measures have also angered the property tycoons. So incensed is Henry Cheng, whose New World Development joined with the Urban Renewal Authority to bring us such scam-plagued eyesores as the Merton and the Masterpiece, that he pulls a giant onion from his pocket, peels it, waves it under his eyes for a few minutes and starts to weep copiously at the plight of the common folk.
The government goes up even higher in the people’s esteem. Anything that hurts the property tycoons these days is screamingly popular. If the Chief Executive announced that all pet dogs were to be confiscated in the interests of eradicating barking and excrement, Hong Kong’s animal lovers would rise up in such a revolt that the PLA would have to import more tanks to crush them. If he declared that the entrails of the impounded mutts were to be used to strangle the bosses of Cheung Kong, Henderson and Sun Hung Kai, all owners – even the really sick ones who kiss the creatures on the mouth – would stampede to be first in line for the privilege. We have to see these property cooling measures in context.