It’s not every day Cheng Yiu-tong, the grim boss of Hong Kong’s Chinese Communist Party front, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of HK, gets mentioned in the same sentence as kitsch artist Jeff Koons – but, here at least, it has now happened. Cheng warns that unless the Big Lychee has a system to screen nominations for the 2017 Chief Executive election, we could end up electing a porn star to run the city. He doesn’t say which one, though given the dire quality of leadership in Hong Kong up to now, perhaps it doesn’t matter.
Commentators agree that Cheng is probably referring to Koons’s one-time wife, La Cicciolina, a Hungarian-born Italian legislator, who was apparently ‘famous for delivering political speeches with one breast exposed’. (Annie Leibovitz did their wedding invitation, right.) It is surprising that the patriotic Cheng – not known for his interest in Barbarian affairs – is even aware of her existence. Has he let slip a dirty little secret: a fascination with the sordid and prurient, typically associated in Hong Kong with grubby-looking middle-aged men in oblong spectacles and nylon jackets who gather beneath escalators to peer up schoolgirls’ skirts? A healthily normal pro-Beijing figure looking to Italy for a reason democracy is bad would surely choose the infinitely more loathsome Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of ‘bunga-bunga’ party fame. You would have thought.
As if the mind is not sufficiently boggled, we are invited to believe that tycoon Li Ka-shing’s possible sale of the Park N Shop supermarket chain is cause for alarm. The theory (peddled by pro-tycoon media and assorted dimwits) is that without Li Ka-shing’s ‘investment’ Hong Kong is or would be a poorer place. Li has happily encouraged this idiocy in the past by grandly assuring us all that he will not withdraw from the city. People pushing this bizarre idea further suggest that he is influenced by dislike for Chief Executive CY Leung.
Whatever we might think of him, Li does not buy and sell major assets out of spite or any other emotion. As level-headed reporters point out, future growth in Hong Kong supermarkets will be limited, and it could make sense for Hutchison Whampoa to cash in and move on. Politics could play a part. Li might sense that time is running out for legal cartelization and price-rigging in Hong Kong. If I owned half of the supermarket duopoly, and had an insatiable appetite for perpetual rent-seeking business expansion, I’d be looking for a sucker to buy it.
Why the drivel about ‘Hong Kong is doomed without KS Li’? Partly because, as with any alarmist claptrap, it sells newspapers. But also, perhaps, it is a form of shoe-shining to flatter the uber-tycoon; it is also a facile way for pro-cartel media to make the government squirm – our officials being too lame to state the simple fact that in the 2010s it makes no difference to Hong Kong what Li does.
The third, and probably least surprising, impossibility today is about tourism. Every time we think the latest other-worldly plan or call for yet more Mainland shoppers must be the last, one more comes along. This time, the city with an acute shortage of housing and space has mysteriously discovered 12.5 square kilometres of land in north Lantau, and naturally the idea is to fill it with more malls full of luxury brands for outsiders – this time an anticipated flood of people coming over the bridge to Zhuhai. (There are no other prospective users of this particular white elephant project.)
The South China Morning Post’s editorials are not – so far as we follow them – riveting reads. Today’s, however, highlights the sloppy or duplicitous thinking behind the incessant cram-millions-more-tourists-in propaganda…
Yes, that does read “…James Tien Pei-chun rightly points out…”. ‘James Tien’ and ‘rightly points out’ are a bit like ‘Cheng Yiu-tong’ and ‘Jeff Koons’. It goes on to maintain that “…tourism is the city’s only pillar industry with sustained growth.” Two glaring errors:
First, our ‘pillar industries’ are largely the ones that are already mature and in parts – like logistics/ports – probably past their prime. Bureaucrats anoint them with this special label out of ignorance or deference to existing big players. (Who are smarter: Park N Shop is a ‘pillar’ of Hutchison’s operations.)
Second, why is tourism the only one that is growing? Could it be because the extreme distortions created by the Mainland-HK price differential for luxury goods and the vast number of Mainland shoppers are suffocating other forms of economic activity here? In other words, tourism is ‘the only industry that is growing’ because it is an out-of-control cancer killing other parts of the economy through such things as high rents.