The simultaneously arcane and tedious game of spot-the-next-CE continues. In recent days and weeks, the Hong Kong media have highlighted Executive Council convenor CY Leung and former Legislative Council president Rita Fan, both trying desperately to be noticed not especially wanting to take over as the city’s chief executive in 2012.
They have been at it before, back in 2004, in the middle of Tung Chee-hwa’s second sorry term. CY had given pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau a contrived public mauling over the issue of Taiwan independence in a none-too-subtle display of patriotic credentials. Rita meanwhile hobnobbed with senior leaders in Beijing and badmouthed CY in Hong Kong as unsuitable for the job. Their avid non-interest in taking over in 2007 came to nothing when, to the horror of many pro-communist loyalists, the Chinese government tossed Tung out in 2005 and installed British-trained bureaucrat Sir Bow-Tie in his place. Other figures at the time anxiously and loudly insisting they were not attracted to being next CE included vaguely Prussian-demeanoured tycoon Peter Woo.
Woo? Who? Maybe in six or seven years’ time we will be scratching our heads trying to recall who that Fan woman or the Leung guy were.
Two South China Morning Post reporters take four articles occupying part of the cover plus a whole page inside to tell us in great depth how Chief Secretary Henry Tang seriously has far too much to do in his current not-worth-a-bucket-of-warm-spit office to even think about taking over from Donald next year but nonetheless has great and profound statesman-like thoughts on the condition of our city, to which we are most welcome.
His ideas’ very lack of substance and his airy dismissal of what most people see as Hong Kong’s biggest problems highlight the fact that this is a candidate of little brain, certainly, and someone born into privilege with no clue about the world around him. Most of all, though, this complete disregard for how he comes across reveals an assumption that the job is already his; he doesn’t need to try – just mouth off and grab some headlines for show while Beijing bides its time before letting it be known that he is to be the anointed one.
The main article begins:
Henry Tang Ying-yen rejects the idea that property tycoons unfairly dominate Hong Kong.
On the contrary, the chief secretary thinks Hong Kong’s most successful people should be held as inspirations.
Instead of complaining about the wealth and power of the city’s richest man, Tang says, young people should ask themselves: “Why can’t I become the next Li Ka-shing?” […] Tang said the developers started small and deserved the rewards of their efforts. “Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee, Kwok Tak-seng – all came from very humble beginnings […] It’s not as if they were born with billions … So Hong Kong has rewarded them for their hard work,” said Tang…
What about young people’s increasing complaints about a lack of social mobility?
“That’s a very pessimistic view of their own future,” Tang said. “Bill Gates was very young. He did not even complete his college education. He became very wealthy by being innovative. Steve Jobs became very wealthy, also first-generation wealth … We have people who can accumulate wealth if they are innovative, work hard and take risks.”
The truth is that the property tycoons made and continue to make their billions because of government policies that spare them any need to compete, and thus deliver absurd profit margins to them on a plate, and allow them to acquire commanding portions of the domestic economy beyond housing like retail, transport and utilities. Economists call these sectors ‘non-tradable’ – another way of saying you have no choice in the Big Lychee but to buy these essentials from these few big companies and cartels. To compare these individuals with Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is a slur against the two Americans and any other businessman who adds value. Hong Kong’s tycoons are like parasites, or a parallel tax system, sucking out wealth created by other participants in the economy. They are the mirror image of genuine innovators and entrepreneurs.
Henry is impressively relaxed about our favourite family-run conglomerates. “They have been very successful, I agree,” he tells the SCMP. “Previous government policies have contributed to foster the build-up of very large companies. It is a fact of life.”
Henry Tang’s father was a Shanghainese textiles magnate. His and several other companies (like the Tiens’) made fortunes by being granted by the government, free of charge, a share of Hong Kong’s textile quotas. This entitled these firms to export very profitably a given quantity of cheap clothes to then-protected Western markets. However, they went one better: they simply sold their quotas on to smaller companies that got their hands dirty actually producing textiles. They got paid to sit around and do nothing.
As well as sharing his unique insight into being born into poverty and struggling to build up wealth through hard work, fierce competition, risk-taking and dazzlingly original inventiveness, Henry comments on some other issues. Impact of pregnant Mainlanders on local hospitals? Haven’t noticed one. Affects of Mainlanders on mass property market? Not significant. What to do about the wealth gap? Education and mainland integration.
Any bit of socio-economic genius to offer the readers? “Some of the frustration we see today is due to the fact that we are a developed economy and the opportunities here are less than those on the mainland.” Comment on Rita Fan? Fan “is very well liked by people […] I would encourage Rita to do whatever she wishes to do.” And CY Leung? I respect Leung’s ability and wish the Executive Council convenor well “in whatever pursuit he decides to pursue.”
As CE, it is widely presumed, Henry will be paired up with a senior civil servant minder (the script calls for Carrie Lam) to bring some bureaucrat-brain cells into the act, thus keeping him from coming across as some blithe, glib, wine-collecting rich-kid out of his depth, and perhaps encouraging him to focus on jokes – his only real strength compared with Rita and whatever-pursuit-he-pursues CY Leung. Meanwhile, we can only look on in wonder: I’m shallow but I don’t care because they’re going to make me CE.