It’s a horror movie cliché: in a mist-shrouded cemetery in the dead of night, a slab slowly slides off the top of a tomb, and The Thing comes back to life and crawls out. Hong Kong’s former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is resurrected for Beijing’s idea of a post-massacre-of-the-democrats charm offensive.
He implores Hong Kong people to welcome the Chinese government’s proposed political reforms as the city’s greatest leap forward in its march to democracy. And the old boy is at his avuncular best, almost commiserating with ‘true-blue Hongkongers’ in the opposition camp, and gently chiding students thinking of boycotting classes to protest. It is, apparently, his first press conference since 2005, and everyone watching finds themselves dabbing a few tears away as they realize, in light of what has happened since, what a thoroughly decent guy he was, and how horrible and mean we were to him all those years ago.
Even Betty turns up. She has lost none of her matronly elegance, wearing (the Standard notes) ‘a white and black floral blouse and a dark pencil skirt’. Who can forget the time she dressed up in a bio-hazard space suit and marched determinedly around Amoy Gardens whacking SARS viruses one by one with a broom?
But you can take nostalgia too far. Another memory of the Tung era is the time Hong Kong’s tycoons were summoned to Beijing for a severe talking-to. They had been bad-mouthing the Crop-Haired One, muttering about his housing policy and its effects on their profit margins. Now Tofu-for-Brains himself is to lead a similar delegation on another visit to the capital. Property moguls Li-Ka-shing (Cheung Kong), Lee Shau-kee (Henderson) and Henry Cheng (New World) will be there – though no word on the Kwok brothers (Sun Hung Kei, or maybe Stanley Prison).
Shoe-shiners of plutocrats, like the Standard, might vaguely hint that this is a PR campaign to convince Hong Kong people that the planned political reform is magnificent. We all admire the property tycoons for their immense vision and innovation, therefore if they say the reform package is wonderful, it must be true.
Obviously not. If that was Beijing’s intention, they would use genuinely hip and trendy dudes like Jackie Chan, Ronald Arculli or Allan Zeman to dazzle us with the ‘semi-democracy is cool’ message.
Beijing will give the tycoons a pre-emptive talking-to. The local business ‘elite’ are not especially enthusiastic about the 2017 proposal. This might not make sense to excitable pro-democrats, overseas correspondents and others who take things at face value. Surely – they will say – the Nominating Committee will be packed with tycoons who can put their own friends on the ballot. But the Nominating Committee will be a mere rubber stamp: it will put whoever Beijing names on the ballot. That might mean candidates who are not totally impressed with cartels. Combine that with the potential for populist campaigning ahead of a ‘universal suffrage’ vote, and the real-estate billionaires can’t help wondering if the existing system doesn’t suit them better. Beijing will order them to like its proposed reforms.
Of course, a really cunning way to boost public support for the reform package would be to let the tycoons openly oppose it – but when was the Communist Party ever that subtle?