Ulterior motives

It is probably true, and sad, that few people in Hong Kong believe that anyone wealthy and/or influential would do something out of the kindness of their heart or for the public good. Finely honed instinct leads us to presume something fishy is going on. A fondness for sport and entertainment then demands that we find out what it is. Today, we have two examples (plus a special, no-extra-charge, free-gift bonus semi-quasi-one tacked on at the end).

First: Lee Sau-kee, octogenarian boss of Henderson Land. After attempting to donate some real estate for affordable (not to say miniature) housing, he proposes dedicating it to a different cause: an extensive home for the elderly. The Standard’s story lavishes praise on the old billionaire’s generosity (and prints 2107 as the target date, which going by past experience looks about the right amount of time to clear all the Lands Department and other red tape). The SCMP quotes an NGO official who manages to find fault with the badly needed facility’s location.

When Lee tried offering subsidized apartments for the young, everyone pounced on him. The suspicion was that he wanted the government to provide roads, water and sewers that would boost the value of his other undeveloped holdings nearby. Even the administration found the idea of a property tycoon giving something away too unnerving to consider. The old folks’ home concept seems less likely to set off conflict-of-interest alarm bells and so may get a warmer reception.

With Li Ka-shing currently (and of course allegedly) constructing a mausoleum-type monstrosity for himself in the New Territories, we can quite possibly give Lee Shau-kee the benefit of the doubt. His motives are probably not grasping and materialist at all, but are all about his legacy and memorial (remember, this is the guy whose son acquired designer test-tube triplet boys to help keep the line going).

It was Henderson Land that brought us the 39 Conduit Road saga, which marked the tipping point in 2009 when Hong Kong’s long-suffering populace finally lost patience with the city’s property barons. Lee always seemed slightly less impervious to public opinion than the other cartel members, and (as SCMP columnist Shirley Yam suggested earlier this year), appears increasingly concerned that we will be lining up to spit on his grave before long.

Whether such a gesture would warrant a last-minute rewriting of Uncle Four’s history from that of a demon to an angel isn’t the point. Many would shrug and say “too little, too late.” But it is reasonable to suppose that his conscience, or at least vanity, is causing him a bit of agonizing in his twilight years. No need to pass the Kleenex.

Second: Tsang Yok-sing, one-time boss of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of HK, and thus leading light in the Chinese Communist Party’s local United Front, as well as President of the Legislative Council. Faced with a dispute between the former Chief Justice and a Beijing official about whether Hong Kong has an independent judicial branch, he goes with the former. He was also quoted by RTHK today speaking at some length about how everyone, pro-dem and pro-Beijing, loves Hong Kong and the motherland, and no-one is plotting with foreigners.

I have long been fascinated by the psychology of Hong Kong’s Communist faithful. It really is like a religion: they are born into it, brought up within it, and they cling to the faith in the face of constant testing and torment from the disbelieving and frequently hostile outsiders. They are allowed no independent thought, having instead to recite the latest mantra from on high, regardless of how illogical or inconsistent it is. And the God they worship shows no love, let alone mercy: it will cast them aside without a second thought, as happened in 2005, when Beijing spat in local patriots’ faces by appointing colonial running dog Donald Tsang as Chief Executive.

Tsang Yok-sing has long been fairly personable in comparison with some of the hate-filled mouth-frothers who inhabit the hard ideological wing of the pro-Beijing camp. Indeed, he has shown signs of being a normal person, most memorably when it was revealed that his wife had obtained a Canadian passport before 1997 just like any other bourgeois counter-revolutionary capitalist-roader. Earlier this year, he began complaining that the Executive Council had gone downhill since the handover.

So far as we know he has many years to go, so he can’t be too worried about his immortal legacy. He has also denied wanting the job of Chief Executive (although he wouldn’t say otherwise even if he lusts after the position). It could be that somewhere up there in the Chinese government and party hierarchies there is a split on whether Hong Kong at this point needs carrot or stick to bring it under control, and Tsang is stoutly urging the former. Or maybe, like some other devout religious types over time, doubts are creeping in.

Which bring us to this little bonus: I have received word that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam’s son Jeremy (mentioned yesterday) was a lucky recipient of a non-means-tested GBP4,500 scholarship award doled out by the local ‘Friends of Cambridge’, a group founded by David Li, boss of the Bank of East Asia. No need to root around for grubby conflicts of interest – yet. Just cut out and keep in case Carrie becomes Chief Executive sometime.

Tsang Yok-sing take note: from ‘The Tragedy of Liberation’ by Frank Dikotter


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20 Responses to Ulterior motives

  1. Joe Blow says:

    Jasper Tsang & family have no reason to doubt their religion: they have done very well out of it.

  2. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Still reading Dikotter’s ToL? I’m already onto Mao’s Great Famine after your initial recommendation. It’s more of the same – millions forced to do work that could be better done by machinery because life is cheap, futile projects that were poorly planned and poorly thought out, everyone outdoing each other in declaring some unachievable target to preserve face and maintain the glorious glory of the Chinese communist cause, lots of people die.

    This sort of stuff is what makes me distrust the current state of mainland Chinese culture. Other cultures went through periods of hyperventilating stupidity (eg witch trials, inquisitions, chupacabras), but most – or at least the ones we pay attention to – have matured beyond that, have been exposed to periods of societal stress and have proved they won’t act too hysterically.

    Sure, you might get blacklisted for having now or ever been associated with the Communists or find your chips renamed Freedom Fries, but that’s worlds apart (or at least less far down the slippery slope) than being struggled, tortured, killed etc all for the sake of face saving and the glory of an ill-thought out and transparently dysfunctional system.

    I don’t think mainland China society has had the chance yet to prove that, when it undergoes the next massive stress, it can behave reasonable rationally and not go looking for the closest Japanese, Filipino or white guy and/or ‘internal enemies’ for a struggle session (choice dependent on the nature of the societal stress).

    Maybe it is mature enough. Perhaps its not. Either way, I’m not sure I want to be in the region to observe up close when the stress point comes, even from the civilised vantage point of Hong Kong.

  3. Stephen says:

    Well done Sir what an excellent little find. What is it with these high and mighty officials which make them think that these things are all OK?

    You are the Chief Secretary, possibly (as I’ve said before) a likely CE candidate as I believe CY is now unelectable. Hence you are proposing to lead the Government on, amongst other things, Education and be a shining beacon on Government / big business collusion. Yet you are as grubby as Rafael Hui and your family is schooled in the UK – so no patriotic education or excessive homework for the lucky Lam’s.

    Proper media and politicians would be on a feeding frenzy with this. Wonder how our finest will do?

  4. PCC says:

    Tsang Yok-sing has long been the most reasonable and decent member of a pretty unattractive bunch.

  5. Real Tax Payer (retired) says:

    Slime, slime and more slime.

    Lee Shau-kee? Mr SLIME personified. The $107 million he’s planning to donate to re-zone the farmland-cum-carpark into a nursing home is barely 1% of the illegal profits he made on 39 Conduit Road (which – I note with amazement – has made it to Wikipedia with black flags waving! Bravo !)
    I think I really will make a point to go and spit on his grave.

    David Li. Slimybanker and arse-licker of other slimes.

    Jeremy Lam when you eat with the devil choose a long spoon. Surely your Mum can afford GBB4,500. You don’t need to drink from that poisoned chalice. If you do you will regret it all the rest of your life. Pass on the offer, dear Lad, and let it go to someone who really does need a scholarship.

    Jasper : why on earth did your wife bother to get a Canadian passport? What’s wrong with her HK SAR passport or a PRC passport?
    I’m thinking of doing the same as Mike Rowse and trading my Western passport in for a PRC passport so I can live in China visa-free with my Chinese wife who has not the slightest interest in living in Canada, nor any other Western country for that matter

    Or do you know something slimy coming to us down the road that we don’t know about ?

  6. Belcher says:

    The “plotting with foreigners” paranoia is priceless. As if CY Leung isn’t already doing a fine job of turning every ordinary Hong Konger into a pissed off, brick-throwing revolutionary ahead of Occupy Central.

  7. Real Tax Payer (retired) says:

    Oh…. I see that young Jeremy already accepted this scholarship back in 2010.

    Too late to turn back now young man. I hope you do turn out well and make a real positive difference to HK, as I think ( hope) your Mum is trying to do.

    But an interesting side delve via into D. ‘S’ Li’s connections with Cambridge takes one to his Wikipedia bio- entry. There at the bottom we find his “order of precedence” (whatever that means) on Legco , nicely sandwiched between two truly outstanding members of HK’s slime society : Rafael Hui and Lee Shau-Kee.
    Birds of a feather… etc.

    I feel sick.

  8. Dr Doo-me-a-little says:

    I can imagine that there are quite a few people in CY’s court at the moment who wished that they had never accepted his invite.

  9. reductio says:

    @Dr Doo-me-a-little

    Christine Loh’s voice seems to have died off since she became under sec for the environment. Where is she when the Kuk are demanding destruction (ahem…development) rights in the country part enclaves? How about some noise about the ongoing pollution. I remember a whiny piece in the SCMP about how she is finding it hard to initiate change from within the HK bureaucratic machine. CY played his cards well with this one. Resign if you can’t do anything darling.

    I saw this:


    Very apt!

  10. Property Developer says:

    Maybe these politicians’ wives/husbands/offspring even parents are the mysterious evil foreign forces determined to destroy China by infiltrating Hong Kong?

  11. Headache says:

    reductio, you must be referring to the part that says “sold out” (which the rest of the blurb attests to in any case).

    RTP, you’re shooting from the hip again. You cannot honestly believe you will be better off with a PRC passport.

    New year’s resolutions: read Dikotter and GTFO of Greater China. Mao’s time will never be repeated but HK is still doomed.

  12. Peter says:

    “You cannot honestly believe you will be better off with a PRC passport.”

    It’s a HKSAR passport. I’m a former US citizen who changed over to HK Chinese nationality, and I am quite satisfied with my HKSAR as well as the tax perks.

  13. reductio says:


    Thought it was quite witty myself, maybe I should listen to the wife more. Have to agree with you, up to a point, about HK being doomed. For most expats and the beautiful people I don’t think there will be huge changes but the local populace will see their language eventually demoted by Putonghua. Won’t be long before HK switches to simplified characters. Apres ca, le deluge.

  14. Real Tax Payer (retired) says:

    @ Headache : I think you were directing your remarks to RTP, not to RTP (retired).

    BTW: Dikotter is very heavy and depressing reading (at least that goes for Mao’s great famine which is the most I could wade through). Personally I’m convinced that will never happen again, but I am equally convinced HK is not doomed, although it will certainly change a lot.

    But then again, HK is always changing a lot.

  15. Headache says:

    Whoops, looks like need to clarify:

    reductio, I liked your link and (I think) I was agreeing with your point (I practically always do).

    Re passports, I did intend to refer to the comments of RTP(retired). He cited a PRC passport; Peter, I am well aware that this is not the same thing as a HKSAR passport.

    Cheers all!

  16. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Peter – you didn’t send an e-mail to everyone in your address book announcing the change, did you? I received an e-mail sometime in the last 12 months from an old work colleague proudly announcing that he was ditching US citizenship for “Chinese” (silence on the exact nature of Chinese made me think it was HK, not the more courageous PRC). I thought the e-mail was sent to a select list, only to find out all and sundry had received it – including my wife, who had never met the lucky man.

  17. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

  18. Rory says:

    But back to those scholarship recipients (promising seems to be the main criterion) – can someone do a little more digging? One of this years lucky scholars is ‘Dickson Pearson Guanda Poon (潘冠達)’, surely a relation?
    And the following from the FAQ –
    Q: If I am awarded the Prince Philip Scholarship, does that mean I am guranteed (sic) a place in Cambridge University?
    A: Yes, Prince Philip Scholarship recipients are guranteed (sic) a place in Cambridge Univeristy (sic again).

  19. Real Scot Player says:

    David Li is a snob on both sides, an odious juggling act

    When in London and Cambridge environs, a gradand dahling, he’s bemoaning Hong Kong officials and how it was all so much better before 1997. Did I mention my knighthood dear?

    When in Hong Kong and Beijing environs where his lads are starting careers he’s bemoaning how difficult the Brits have made thngs and wouldnt it be all better if everyone in Hong Kong focused on the economy and using banking services BEA have copied from HSBC. Did I mention my gold bauhinia darling?

    So which is it Davy?

  20. @Peter – if I had to pay US tax on a Hong Kong income, I might be tempted to switch passports. For those of us who do not hail from the Land of the Free (at a price), I don’t see any benefit unless you want to suck up to the new establishment for personal advantage.

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