It’s that time of the year again: Hong Kong’s eager-to-please tycoons, born-again patriotic ex-civil servants and, of course, longtime adoring faithful migrate to Beijing for the best part of 10 tortuous days attending sessions of either the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (a snooze-fest for aging shoe-shiners) or the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress. The Big Lychee’s businessmen have the toughest time of it, wasting precious hours every day waiting for their Mainland fellow deputies to have mid-morning naps, post-lunch naps and pre-dinner naps, and then having to sit and listen to hours of vacuous slogans in Mandarin. Accustomed to instant action at the snap of a finger, they find it frustrating in the extreme to have to put up with the motherland’s inefficient and almost-alien way of doing things. Let us hope they find it therapeutic.
The CPPCC started off with a bang, in the form of an opening speech by the body’s chairman Jia Qinglin stating that “To maintain social stability the government must start listening to the public.”
If I were a thing called the Chinese Communist Party and I had, since 1949, been running a place called the People’s Republic of China, I think I would probably get around to considering this myself sooner or later. After all, they’ve tried everything else. Nothing to lose.
Jia went further, saying that Hong Kong (or ‘Hong Kong-and-Macau’, as they say up there) needs to work harder to make its youths more patriotic. The South China Morning Post quotes a Hong Kong delegate and official as saying that Beijing is concerned about the post-80s generation of disgruntled young folk, who some affectionately see as the Big Lychee’s foremost and even first authentic counterculture movement. I look forward to seeing someone try to turn these kids into obedient little red-flag-wavers.
One of the things that has led the post-80s generation to reject conventional Hong Kong attitudes (some of them want to be farmers) is the impossibility of attaining the traditional symbol that you are a whole and accomplished Hongkonger – ownership of a tiny expensive apartment. The Economist this week declares our property 54% overvalued, judging by historical rental yields.
One of many signs of a property bubble is a tortured reluctance of officials to admit that there is one. If he had any sense (for want of a less inane way to start a sentence) Financial Secretary John Tsang would have addressed the issue directly in his wreck of a Budget Speech last week. “If citizens feel it is a worthwhile speculative investment,” he could have announced, “then be my guest and buy an apartment right now. But if you are a young couple starting out in life, or a new arrival in town wondering whether to make the plunge, I would strongly remind you that current asking prices for many new developments are silly. There will be a time when you will get much better value, but I don’t know when.” Unlike the other squeals of outrage last week, the ones such a declaration would have provoked would have been entertaining. (Donald Tsang as Financial Secretary back in the Patten days did this, if not so bluntly.)
The vastest discussion on any English-language message board in Hong Kong must be Asiaxpat’s thread on the you-know-what market. In recent weeks, participants have suggested that even Soho’s venerable walk-ups by the escalator are fetching prices that sound borderline ridiculous. If anyone offered something like that for mine, I would sell on the spot. As it is, I suspect we are seeing sellers competing with buyers to see who can be sillier – as happens in our bubbles.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s top officials drone away to the loyal, snoring elders in the flower-bedecked Hall of the People, imploring the elite to listen to the people. As opposed to, say, locking them up for querying the rightness of poisoning babies. And Hong Kong’s deputies stab surreptitiously at their Blackberries, jittery about maybe missing some of the hot-money action back home in boomtown.