CY versus Henry: the tension mounts

Not one, but two, meetings make this morning an exceptionally busy one by my relaxed standards – I normally have this many per month. As it happens, both touched on the Great Henry Versus CY Fight that Hong Kong would like to believe is going to take place.

The first meeting involved a bright-eyed and politically aware member of our city’s youth. Neither a radical post-80s firebrand nor a member of any pro-Beijing United Front groups, he would be the sort of young person our pro-democracy parties would recruit if they came down to planet Earth. He is part of a loose grouping of what might be called moderate-activist peers, which in turn is in very informal contact with two other groups, one mainly of college-based 20-somethings and another of professional 30- and 40-somethings.

It would have been hard to imagine up to even a year ago, but he and many of his buddies are rooting for CY Leung. The reason can be summed up in one phrase: property developer hegemony. Hong Kong’s rising GDP, he explains, has been soaked up by higher housing costs and rents, leaving the ordinary people no better off than they were 10 years ago. Only CY will put a stop to it.

The second meeting was with a minor-league tycoon with enough modesty to admit that despite good Beijing connections he hasn’t a clue what they are thinking up there. Still, he reckons, the only reason China’s leaders have not looked upon CY Leung favourably is because of the man’s creepy image and lack of popularity in Hong Kong. In principle, if CY really took the public opinion polls by storm, Beijing could yet pick him for next Chief Executive.

Add these two meetings together, and it suggests things could get interesting.

Or maybe not.

Many believe that the property tycoons, who hate Leung, have the power to effectively veto him. This is probably not the case these days, when the plutocrats need Beijing far more than Beijing needs them (as it seemed to in the final years of British rule in Hong Kong). However, there is a much vaster establishment class that is relying on Henry Tang to take over from its great friend Donald Tsang next year so its members can continue to wallow in the fat, smug, pompous comfort zone 12 years of shoe-shining and patronage have granted them.

The archetype of this milieu would be Anthony Wu, chairman of the sprawling public-sector Hospitals Authority, and of the slavishly pro-government Bauhinia Foundation ‘think-tank’, and of the HK General Chamber of Commerce (once a business lobby but now infiltrated by bureaucrats and corporatist interests and loyally supporting every government policy it can), and apparently of Henry Tang’s ‘campaign’ team.

Plus all our other favourite cronies, advisory committee appointees, medal recipients and heads of purposeless semi-public organizations; think Bunny Chan, Ronald Arculli, Allen Zeman, Norman Chan; think the Tourist Board, the HK Mortgage Corporation, the Trade Development Council, the Stock Exchange, the Airport Authority, the MTR. And let’s not forget the current and former senior civil servants tying the whole web together.

CY Leung is an outsider to this self-selecting, self-perpetuating empire of mediocrity that has every interest in maintaining the status quo. CY does have an image problem – a Communist problem and an authoritarian-streak problem – and these folks will be more than happy to add to it both here and further north (where they are generally sensitive about Hong Kong’s hang-ups on these subjects).

It would be great to be wrong, but the CY-takes-Hong Kong scenario simply feels too good to be credible.

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13 Responses to CY versus Henry: the tension mounts

  1. PCC says:

    An excellent analysis of the rotten core that lies at the heart of Hong Kong governance.

  2. Stephen says:

    “CY-takes-Hong Kong” scenario does feel too good however look at this from Beijing’s point of view.

    They have been broadsided by the utter incompetance of CH Tung and Sir Donald and know Henry the Horse will probably be worse.

    It’s The Horses to lose and if, as suggested, Arculli, Wu and Semen are part of the “election” team then he’s heading in that direction. Tycoon Uncles 1,2,3 & 4 are mostly in their 80’s and dribbling hence Beijing no longer looks to them as saviours.

    Watch the newspapers in the coming couple of months. If there is a number of slavish “CY’s your Boy” stories motivated by Beijing in order for the public to get over his image problem and back the guy.

    A very public handshake may follow.

  3. Maugrim says:

    CY may be increasing his overall popularity, but to the Central Government, is he as obedient and as pliable as the dullard Henry?

  4. Real Tax Payer says:

    I hate the property hegemony and business cartel collusion as much as anyone. It’s a rotten cancer running through the heart of our society. Full marks to the young guy you met today. I would like to meet him too and shake his hand.

    If CY really can do something about this rot , he maybe not such a bad choice

    ( BTW : when will the police finally finish their investigation into the 39 Conduit Rd scandal?)

    But….I am wondering if BJ has a hidden agenda

    Indeed I would be very surprised if BJ does not have a hidden agenda.

    I have a lot of admiration for the top leaders of the CCP. I think that most of them are probably quite honest and patriotic guys, and certainly they are very, very clever ( a lot more clever than old Tung, Donald, and Henry). And to have risen to the top of the CCP meant slithering through the slimy , corrupt lower ranks of the CCP, and so they must be political Olympians and capable of concocting some very Machiavellian schemes for HK’s political future.

    It is a fact that both Tung and Donald have goofed up badly, and their reputations are in shreds. I would hate to be in Donald’s shoes now and be derided by most of HK, just as we also deride old Tung. But did this happen because BJ completely over-estimated their abilities as CEs ? If so, BJ made the same stupid mistake twice in a row.

    Henry will certainly be even worse than either Tung or Donald-the-lame-duck : anyone can see that coming by 2017. So does BJ really intend to deliberately make the same mistake yet again? If so, is it BJ’s hidden agenda that we will all be so pissed off with our first three CEs that we will think seriously whom we elect in 2017 and not just blindly vote for the best-known democrat on the ballot paper?

    Or is the hidden agenda that BJ wants us to be so pissed off in 2012 that we will welcome CY despite his previous poor image. if only so that we don’t have to endure more of the same lousy leadership for another 5 years under the rule of the horse. It’s said that CY is truly BJ’s man at heart, and that he takes no sh1t from property developers and the business cartels. That’s the complete opposite of what Henry will do

    So was BJ priming us all these 13 years so that we would accept their man in 2012 ? Thus their true man in HK will be firmly in the seat come 2017 instead the weak and foppish Henry, and will make sure that we don’t go overboard and look to the DREADED DEMOCRATS as the only possible alternative ?

    And has BJ deliberately been giving the property developers and business cartels enough rope to hang themselves these past years, so that finally we rally behind someone who will at last do something to break their power? ( And that person is BJ’s man ! Wow ! BJ is not so bad after all….)

    I don’t know…….. but I’m think out loud , and thinking hard.

  5. oddsox says:

    Another interpretation that’s speculative but possible is that Beijing is truly alarmed by the civil discontent that Tsang and the establishment’s ineptitude has provoked and worry that it could turn to unrest. They see Henry as an even less competent Lane Crawford shop floor dummy perpetuation of the status quo and are looking to change horses. The smarter more modern Central Government Liaison office and HK-Macau Office cadres realise that Leung may have a means of salving public discontent over many related issues. They also hope that he won’t dither about public opposition and will decisively stream roller things through over the usually amateurish and ineffectual HK opposition that any real government could easily sweep aside. So at the same time Leung will placate the middle and working classes disaffected by inepitude, a growing poverty gap, collusion and policy drift and also deliver populist authoritarian government like a charismatic and effective mainland mayor (Xu Kaungdi anyone?) or, if looking for a Western metaphor, Margaret Thatcher. The only problem is Leung’s probable communist past which they know will scare HKers with a long memory of what they and their parents and grandparents fled. So they subtly promote him via disownable channels as the dark horse, contrarian candidate that will govern for the ordinary people and that Beijing doesn’t really want and see if the public adopt him as a people’s choice backed alternative to Henry who can’t stop saying stupid things about the poverty gap and how everyone can be Li Ka Shing if they work hard enough. They then publicly switch horses if Leung looks like a winner in the opinion pools and Henry can’t effectively match him and they look oh so benevolent and democratic minded. Leung then does do some measures to alleviate working class poverty and frustrated middle class aspirations but stifles dissent and otherwise acts authoritarian on core issues like development projects and items of faith like national education etc.

  6. The Regulator says:

    Property prices matter. Low salaries matter. When FS, Henry Tang hiked the former and reduced the latter spraying out tax assessments to reduce the deficit.

  7. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ OddSox

    Yes, that’s very plausible indeed

    ( Bring back the cane and Maggie Thatcher ! )

  8. Iffy says:

    I’m also finding “the oddsox scenario” spookily plausible! If I were the CCP brains trust and this wasn’t already my plan I’d probably adopt it as of today.

    RTP, I’m often not quite sure whether to take your comments at face value or as tongue in cheek and your final comment provides yet another example!

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Iffy :

    Do you mean the final comment on my first or 2nd posting today?

    On serious matters like this I’m speaking my mind, please be certain of that

    OK leave out the cane bit ! But we could really do with a Maggie in govt house, and maybe CY will be just that person.

    I like oddsox’s comment : ” he won’t dither about public opinion……could sweep aside”

    I am guessing as much as probably we all are, and I will stand corrected if others come up with more plausible theories, certainly if they are proved right.

    But it still helps to think out loud, which is why I find this blog very helpful

  10. Claw says:

    There was a view during the Tung years that CY was being groomed to take over from Tung, however his involvement in that conflict of interest situation and then the early exit of Tung put paid to that. Nevertheless, he was never dropped and was even advanced to the Convenor of EXCO although he kept a relatively low profile. Perhaps this is the original plan being put back on track.

  11. paul says:

    Isn’t there something about “Rome” and “Burning”?

    By the way – did the great Hong Kong press report upon the recent death of Beryl Walden who spent most of her adult life painting – it must be said beautifully – the flowers and fauna of Hong Kong and southern China?

  12. Agnes Lam says:

    And nobody noticed that someone sued Tung Chee Wah in the High Court today for an ’employment’ matter ?

  13. If the whole Hong Kong’s next CE charade is some bizzaro world Zhongnanhai tough love thing and we do get Henry the Horse until 2017… I’m not sure Hong Kong can survive another 6 years(!) with yet another moron… Arrrrgh.

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