Dynamic, thrusting international cities update

Good news for fans of the coming-China-bubble-burst story: a Mainland property developer plans to build the world’s third-tallest tower in Wuhan. The capital of Hubei Province, Wuhan is chiefly famous for being the least important giant Chinese city people overseas might have heard of. Its main mission in life is to be situated conveniently around halfway up the navigable Yangtze River between bustling Shanghai on the coast and the panda bear-infested mountains of the nation’s darkest Sichuan interior.

What it will do with a 2,000-ft/600-m tower containing luxury hotels, apartments and a – oh my, how original! – conference centre remains to be seen. The developer’s blather about the town being a ‘dragon head’, and (yet another) international city, gives the project a distinct air of heady Hubei hubris hot-money horse crap. But maybe the place really is the next Chicago. It’s got the weather. A relative of mine lived in Wuhan in the early 80s and has bitter memories of having to live in a district south of the river during winter, when only homes to the north got heating.

The world’s coldest 2,000-foot megatower – that would put the place on the map.

Meanwhile, back in the world cities of today, Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission boss Martin Wheatley says he will stand down in mid-2011. Did he jump or was he pushed? Which is more likely: that you decide to jump next summer, or someone decides to push you but gives you six months’ warning (in which case, what’s the difference)?

The SFC is hated among the great and good in Hong Kong for occasionally treating a few of them as if they were subject to the law (notably stopping tycoon-scion Richard Li from rigging a PCCW shareholders’ vote in a way long considered the natural born right of Hongkongers with immense, especially inherited, wealth). It’s being lumped in with everyone else they resent; it makes them feel sort of common.

The Commission is also unpopular among demented and despairing small investors who bought Lehman minibonds before they became worthless, and among the devil-banks that conned the old folk into buying them and had to stump up partial compensation. Not least, the SFC is sneered at and mocked for occasionally beating insignificant and incompetent bit-players to near-death in public for the flimsiest and most technical trading infractions – apparently to show what a big, macho, well-regulated international financial centre we are. An alliance among such disparate grudges would be interesting to see, but sounds unlikely. The Standard has a job in Europe lined up for him.

A more interesting question is: who will take over? People sensitive to racial matters perceive a second, post-90s, round of localization to be in progress in Hong Kong, mostly on account of the replacement of  Hospitals Authority boss Aussie Shane Solomon with a deputy, PY Leung. (The appointment of a Brit as head of the West Kowloon Cultural MegaComplex Vanity Hub doesn’t count, as only a Westerner would be crazy enough to take the job.) The SFC position has a high international profile, however – it’s about financial regulation, for heaven’s sake, not something girly like health care. Our leaders will be tempted to pick a more cosmopolitan face because, as in 1980s TV commercials for mainland brands of cognac, if there’s a white guy in the picture it must be really classy, right? Like in New York and London. And there’s that little question of what sort of choice we have already in town.

At the top, any bias is more likely to concern perceived friendship and loyalty than skin colour. Along with Suharto, Mobutu and Marcos, the Big Lychee’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang will be remembered for more than a little cronyism. There are 7 million people in Hong Kong, but Sir Bow-Tie seems to feel comfortable with only a short and shallow talent pool mainly comprising former bureaucrats and tubby, self-satisfied bean-counter/lawyer types quick on the draw with the shoe-shine brush. (The whole of the Bauhinia Foundation board also now sits on the Hospital Authority board – two of the few public bodies, by the way, where they can be sure they won’t run into Ronald Arculli, though I’m not saying that has anything to do with the overlap.) It also seems to give Donald warm pleasure to put a pal in a big job. So ideally we need a top regulator who can cut it with the big boys but doesn’t worry the more insecure among us. And Beijing will no doubt need to approve. Could be a tough one.

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3 Responses to Dynamic, thrusting international cities update

  1. Phyllis Stein says:

    Most Gwalios are being pushed out of their jobs these days in Hong Kong. Look at how they conspired at the Health Authority for example. Gwalios mostly can’t be bought and often even refuse to act as yes men figureheads. They also make the locals look small, ugly and stupid. That’s the easy part of course.

  2. Ravio Li says:

    As one who is old enough to remember names like Ralph Pixton and Elaine (?) Bridgewater, I must say, in all honesty, that in the ‘good old’ colonial days there was also an awful lot of flotsam floating around the white part of HK society (look at the current ‘expat’ journalists at the elephant graveyard that is RTHK and you’ll get an idea). “Hong Kong, a first class place for second class people” they used to say, and boy, was it true.

  3. Mike says:

    Think its about time for a wikileaks story… you’ve been missing the train wreck this week, and with no quality SCMP/Standard coverage, we could do with an HK perspective.

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