Wet yourselves – that’s an order

The twin mystical cults of Li Ka-shing and special Mainland zones come together on today’s front pages.

Asia’s richest man has enjoyed great success over the decades in operating, buying and selling monopoly and cartelized businesses and utilities around the world. He has often been brilliant at it, but it is hard to see how much actual wealth he has created or innovation achieved. If he hadn’t built/owned/traded this or that housing estate/port/retailer, someone else would have.

Yet when he opens his mouth, the media and much of Hong Kong obediently listen, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he carefully avoids saying anything of either substance or sense. He would like to blast Chief Executive CY Leung for pulling the plug on Hong Kong’s long-running real-estate scam with special stamp duties, but he can’t. Instead, along with inevitable blather about the property market, he proclaims that his giant holding companies will remain in Hong Kong, that Shanghai’s super-exciting free-trade hub-zone will have a huge impact on the Big Lychee and that the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement is a bad idea.

Has anyone ever seriously suggested that Li might relocate Hutchison and Cheung Kong somewhere else? Somewhere – almost inevitably – where corporate taxes would be higher, cartels illegal and red tape far worse? Li Ka-shing Inc. is more stuck in this city than the rest of us. We should be so lucky, if price-gouging supermarket and housing monopolies should suddenly depart these shores. But no. The media urgently convey the great man’s benevolent assurances that his conglomerates will stay, the implication being that without him we are somehow doomed. No-one questions it.

As for Shanghai’s free-trade zone, no-one has a clue what it will do, so it is impossible to estimate its effect on Hong Kong, free-trade paradise since 1842 and 800 miles away. In theory, it should enable foreign financial and other institutions to come in and sell goods and services, and thus compete with and maybe decimate China’s state-owned banks and other companies. In theory.

Some say Mainland cities’ hub-zone-gimmicks are local officials’ desperate attempts to grab forbidden regulatory advantages; others wonder if they are just schemes to push up land prices. A third (admittedly coincidental) possibility is that they are being used to scare Hong Kong. We recall the Great 2006 Hong Kong Marginalization Panic Hoohah, when all our favourite officials and tycoons suddenly started warning that the city was about to be cast adrift, forgotten and left behind to whither and collapse into dust. And then they suddenly stopped. We never did learn what that was all about. But the hub-zone-threat seems to be serving a similar purpose: if you don’t behave, if you don’t cheer up and act like CY is a dazzling success, if you don’t cut out this Occupy Central thing, then, after dark, when you’re alone in your bed, the zone-hubs will emerge from the closet, and come… to get you.

The Standard, either through careless layout or sheer over-eagerness to please Beijing, puts all this stuff on one page. As well as Li Ka-shing’s veiled threats, we get Beijing’s Hong Kong Affairs chief Wang Guangya suggesting that the Big Lychee’s (alleged) decline versus Singapore is your fault, not just some weird and inexplicable thing that started at some indefinable point in the 1996-98 era. And we get a Mainland investment bypassing Hong Kong shock horror, as if we wanted/needed their money, with one Liao Qun of Citic Bank expressing alarm, and the reporter even managing to connect the phenomenon (probably some capital-control-dodging thing anyway) with – you guessed it – the Shanghai free-trade zone.

While Hong Kong is supposed to tremble and obey, the real fear, insecurity and paranoia behind all this are not hard to find: evil reactionary foreign forces are preparing to take control of the Big Lychee in 2017, to topple the Chinese Communist Party, subvert the Shanghai free-trade zone, and steal the secrets of Park N Shop’s commercial success. Beijing is scared; you have to be, too.

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14 Responses to Wet yourselves – that’s an order

  1. maugrim says:

    “The newspaper said Britain’s “so-called support” to Hong Kong included strategy, policies, information systems, propaganda and funds for political parties.” There we have the Beijing playbook in action. The only thing missing is a bit of astroturfing here and there.

    “Sung said Britain and the central government should cease their war of words as this would raise the fears of Hongkongers toward future consultation” There’s a war of words? Only one person has expressed support, hardly a ‘war of words’. I wonder who would want to beat up the image that a war of some description was indeed occurring? Oh wait….

  2. Joe Blow says:

    Can’t the old fool just die ? (no, not you, Maugrim. I am talking about Li)

  3. Gumshoe says:

    Just my onion, but I think we should listen to the rich guy. He has more money than me and is in all likelihood a better person, so…

  4. Spud says:

    Even in the afterlife Scrooge is going down fighting, facing off with the Tai Po bomb-proof mausoleum contractors in court.

  5. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Unfortunately, playing the We-are-all-Chinese-and-the-ethnic-minorities-should-go-home card is highly popular amongst the working-class (and NT layabouts), so is played ad infinitum by the less scrupulpous politicians, with the bonus of pleasing Peking.

  6. Stephen says:

    Trouble is for Li is the adoring Hong Kong public isn’t listening and loving him anymore and, in the twilight of his years, he just wants to be loved. No longer does the young Hong Konger sit in his cramped, depressing HA flat, thinking I too one day can be as rich as Li Ka Shing by marrying the daughter of a factory owner.

    That wealth has been further enhanced by a benign fading colonial authority allowing him to own a utility monopoly, the establishment bank who hands him Hutchinson Whampoa on a plate and a depressingly colluding authority that gives your family vast tracts of free land and fails to prosecute when you breach height restrictions.

    Yes we’ve all finally realised that we are not going to be as rich as Mr. Li and very few locations would have allowed him to get as fat as he has without invoking monopoly laws against him. But in Asia’s World City it’s all good or was.

    As for the CCP (and doubtless Mr Li is loved there) it all so utterly fecking predictable.

  7. reductio says:

    @ ProertyDeveloper
    “NT layabouts”? Such calumny, Sir, cannot be left unchallenged. Why, but a two weeks since I was remarking to my wife, during a nocturnal perambulation, how much care these “layabouts” had lavished on what is these days I believe called “fly-tipping”. Spread on the grass with such an eye for detail, and all done with much celerity. Indeed I was joshing with the Government official who at last appeared today in the said location that if his colleagues could always act with a likewise speed, who knows what great things could eventuate. He. with furrowed brow, rejoindered that there was no such thing possible, given that (he looked to left and right) he would not want a visit from Uncle Ho and his merry band of prankster lads.

  8. Chopped Onions says:

    Three headlines:
    “Mainland investment bypasses HK” oh joy of joys, Hooray!

    “Reflect on why you’ve lost out to Singapore” er, that’s nothing to do with me fella, more your problem really

    ‘I’m staying but I’m worried” oh please, no one gives a hoot.

  9. maugrim says:

    They must truly think we are stupid.

    “A top Beijing official has been reported as saying that Hong Kong should consider whether it wants to focus on political struggle or economic development. The comments by the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Wang Guangya, were quoted by a director of Sun Hung Kai Properties, Walter Kwok, who met him yesterday in Beijing with a delegation from the Friends of Hong Kong Association.”

  10. “A top Beijing official has been reported as saying that Hong Kong should consider whether it wants to focus on political struggle or economic development.” I suppose those who are incapable of holding more than one idea in their head at one time can’t conceive that others may be smarter.

    The Friends of Hong Kong Association is a new one on me, but I suppose it’s friendly in the same way that the Hong Kong Youth Care Association is caring. With friends like that…

    By the way, you man “wither”, not “whither”.

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    reductio, Fly-tipping is a way of life, since you not only get rid of the rubble, but raise the ground around your house to prevent unwanted access and create a “garden” and/or garage.

    And the offiicials are certainly at the beck and call of the natives, only accessing areas they are meant to, performing small works as requested and contracting major works out to friends and relatives.

  12. Real Scot Player says:

    Is Walter still a director of SHKP? I think not. Still, to be safe, sell 16 anyway. If Walter was running the shambles at 30 Harbour Road it would be overpriced on $80

  13. Joe Blow says:

    I guess we won’t hear much from Adams anymore.

    “Toot toot !”, there goes the doctor.

  14. PCC says:

    Walter Kwok is an NED at SHK.

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