Professor Lau Siu-kai, GBS, JP is one of those all-purpose, if red-tinged, establishment poodles whose profundities are dutifully reported by our unquestioning media. He features in two South China Morning Post reports today.
Here he is on page C3 warning of a middle-class backlash against welfare for the poor. He provides no definition of ‘middle class’ and no evidence of any substantial popular opposition to the use of plentiful revenues to help the disadvantaged. But the tycoon-bureaucrat nexus abhors the idea of sharing public wealth, and the prospect of a bourgeois insurrection against handouts fits in neatly with Financial Secretary John Tsang’s scare-stories of the aging population, the government running out of money, and so on. While the SCMP quotes his comments without offering an alternative view, skeptics will note that Lau was for a long time head of a Central Policy Unit with no known achievements to its name and was the guy who advised Beijing in mid-2003 to relax because the anti-government demonstration planned for July 1 would attract no more than 30,000 people, when well over 500,000 turned up.
And here he is on page A3 declaring that Beijing will not make concessions on political reform to pan-democrats as it fears a split among its own support base. As with his remarks on welfare, we need to take this with a pinch of salt. Lau owes his status as an ‘advisor’ to China (since when have Communists taken advice?) to his longstanding presence in the pre-2012 ‘elite’ that Beijing swept aside when it made CY Leung Chief Executive. This same milieu of bureaucrats, tycoons, shoe-shiners and has-beens – who essentially got the Big Lychee into today’s mess – stands to lose most from a more representative system of government. So Lau’s argument can be seen as self-serving and even disingenuous, but more likely wishful thinking. In Communist-Land, tails don’t wag dogs (give or take 2003); if Beijing calls up the anti-CY faction of its support base, and says ‘jump’, they will jump.
But let’s take Lau at face value. Let’s suppose Beijing is panicking because a bunch of cartel-owning rent-seekers and their hangers-on are unhappy about blowing it and losing some influence. One depressingly predictable response would be to shore up the United Front by reining CY in and restoring tycoon-bureaucrat rule to some greater degree. But that would risk upsetting other members of the fold. The traditional loyalists of the DAB and leftist labour unions owe nothing to the aging property developers, ex-colonial civil servants and other ‘instant-noodle patriots’.
An alternative course of action would be for Chinese officials to engage in some lateral thinking. If part of the support base is unhappy and making trouble, why not fire it and hire a replacement? Deng Xiaoping and Marxist-trained contemporaries were besotted by Hong Kong’s tycoons, hilariously imagining that the city’s plutocrats created rather than skimmed off its wealth. Now that they surely know better, why not forget the tycoons and cultivate some other, bigger and probably more-deserving, ‘sectors’? For every worker, salaryman, professional, academic or entrepreneur ardently devoted to either the pro-Beijing or pro-dem camp, there must be half a dozen moderate undecideds waiting to be won over. If you want to marginalize the pro-dems, is it better to curry favour from a handful of ultra-rich or from a big chunk of the middle ground?
OK, so this is all day-dreaming aloud – but no more than Lau Siu-kai’s ramblings about middle-class backlashes and the need for Beijing to grovel to our redundant local oligarch old guard.