If you’re a free newspaper, you can prostitute yourself all you like. The Standard today carries no fewer than three stories glorifying one Li Ruigang, Mainland TV and radio tycoon, for reasons that are not clear but presumably go beyond everyday shoe-shining into, perhaps, the owner Charles Ho’s hopes of cementing some sort of cross-border media deal. Li plans a Shanghai version of Lan Kwai Fong (can’t anyone think up anything original any more?), knows much and cares deeply about Hong Kong’s declining creativity (I’m not making this up) and absolutely did NOT NOT NOT rise up in the state-run world of Mainland media thanks to a relationship with the gorgeous pouting daughter of a Politburo member (I think we can safely read between the gaping, laboured lines). Wanting a Lan Kwai Fong: pitiful or what?
Back on planet Earth – well, not really, but a bit closer – Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung continues his barely believable ‘shooting self in foot after self-immolating and leaping from window’ act. After a generous two-week excuse-inventing interval, the government is coming up with an official super-credible reason why entrepreneur-led HKTV didn’t get a TV broadcasting licence while stations run by members of dynastic cartel-running conglomerates did: HKTV lacked a big parent company, deemed necessary for financial sustainability in a competitive market. If that sounds like a fancy way of saying “Your daddy isn’t a tycoon, so there,” that’s unfortunate, but it’s the best we could do in two weeks.
The government is trying desperately to beat tomorrow’s Legislative Council powers-and-privileges motion that would force it to produce all the papers behind the licensing decision. It will probably succeed, thanks to the in-built veto power of the mainly pro-Beijing Functional Constituencies. Apart from a token few allotted to the pro-democracy camp, the FCs are divided between Communist loyalists, who will follow orders, and (mostly cartel-related) ‘business’ interests. The latter detest CY but also hate competition for cozy market-rigging cliques, and so may initially feel torn. But they will also, no doubt, ultimately follow orders.
Hopes of solving the root cause of this mess – a dysfunctional political system – lie with constitutional reform, which is possibly coming soon, or at least soonish, after much foot-dragging for over 20 years. It will all be decided by Beijing, which has to choose whether to depend less on buying the loyalty of business and other vested interests with crony government, and instead to trust the wider population to elect leaders who are competent but won’t challenge the Communist Party.
One constantly repeated falsehood is that things can only change if the bulk of the Hong Kong community can agree on a way forward. The theory is that both pro-democrats and the pro-tycoon FCs have a veto over any reform bill in LegCo. The South China Morning Post yesterday did its bit to perpetuate this myth in an editorial on the need for compromise:
Hong Kong failed when the first chance for political reform under Chinese rule arose eight years ago. Despite strong public desire for change, the government and lawmakers could not agree on the way forward when handling the reform in 2005.
The truth is that no way forward was on the table; Beijing offered a 2007 package of purely symbolic change.
…the city cannot afford to miss the coming opportunity. Standing still is not an option … crafting an electoral package acceptable to the key stakeholders will not be easy … the language of political conciliation is needed … dialogue and co-operation [are] essential … That means putting aside differences and seeking common ground on the way ahead … Hong Kong cannot afford to march on the spot on the road towards democracy. We need to work harder to come up with a road map and turn it into reality. Compromise is essential.
This is all a code for ‘we must con people into thinking the FCs can and have to stay in some form’. When saying we need a package “acceptable to the key stakeholders,” the (tycoon-owned) SCMP is suggesting that the FCs would use their veto against a package eliminating or seriously reducing their privileges. Constitutionally, they could. But any such package will come from Beijing. If (by some chance) Beijing orders to FCs to vote themselves out of existence, they will obey. The dynamics give the pro-dems, on the other hand, a genuine veto (which, typically, they are neglecting because it’s more fun to rant about how the Chief Executive candidates must be nominated by a ‘committee’ comprising the whole electorate.)
So remember: when you hear hand-wringing pleas for ‘compromise’ on things like the FCs, you are probably listening to tycoons begging to retain the upper hand.