Tycoons love the kids, really


Up until a couple of months ago, few of Hong Kong’s big business-establishment leaders gave a damn about the city’s youth. In the last few weeks, however, they have suddenly discovered a deep concern for the younger generation.

When former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa launched his Our Hong Kong ‘think-tank’, dozens of our great and good were moved almost to tears by ex-Financial Secretary Antony Leung’s description of how the kids face unaffordable housing and poor job prospects. Earlier this week, the Bauhinia Foundation released its Let Them Eat Hostels report on the same theme. And now tycoons like Vincent Lo and Allen Stan-HousingIllsZeman clamour to spout the same stuff, with an emphasis on developing country parks, at a General Chamber of Commerce bore-fest on the future of Hong Kong. Zeman also spoke of a need for universal suffrage, and thus passage of the proposed political reform package for 2016-17.

The tycoons are worried, though perhaps not actually wetting themselves yet (mega-mogul Li Ka-shing saw it coming ages ago). Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed administrations have handed them everything on a plate. Most obviously, officials have engineered a shortage of land supply to push property prices up, allowed floods of Mainland shoppers into town to push rents up, and splurged billions on pointless infrastructure projects to channel public wealth into tycoons’ pockets.

The little things add up, too. When he was Chief Executive, Donald Tsang introduced incentives for developers to build better features into their projects; in theory it was to improve our quality of life, but in practice it gave the cartel free rights to build more apartments, which ended up being sold to money-laundering Mainlanders to keep empty. And there were the inexplicable discretionary decisions and loopholes that came out of the planning bureaucracy to allow specific projects to grow in size.

The manifestation of public anger that is the Occupy-Umbrella movement raises the prospect that the plundering game might be up.

This may well be too much to hope – and there is an element of being careful what you wish for. But the tycoons’ sudden nervousness suggests that they at least are taking this seriously.

Assuming that pro-dem lawmakers veto the political reform package, we will have the same system as before – Beijing will pick the next Chief Executive, who will be ‘elected’ by the rubber-stamp committee of 1,200. And that person, under this scenario, will not be to the oligarchs’ liking. (As we saw in 2012, the tycoons are in a minority on the Election Committee and can be outvoted by the bloc directly controlled by Beijing.) It’s hard to imagine any of the pro-Beijing camp’s people having the leadership qualities or gravitas, so it could be some bland and presentable type from the bureaucracy. The key thing is that the lucky winner would be discreetly guided by Mainland officials in a distinctly more populist direction.

The tycoons are fearful because they know that the Chinese Communist Party has, as Lord Palmerston put it, no permanent friends, only permanent interests. The most fawning and groveling and odious shoe-shiner will be kicked in the teeth the minute he is of no further use (or that he provokes unrest that the CIA can exploit).

Paradoxically, a property crash could help keep the tycoon-bureaucrat crony-system in place, by easing the housing affordability problem and scaring private home-owners into demanding policies to prop up pricesMatthewCheungNine.

The government’s official line on this (though they don’t shout it out) is that apartments are many Hongkongers’ main store of wealth, and therefore lower prices are undesirable. The last time I checked, Secretary for Labour and (can’t make this stuff up) Welfare Matthew Cheung had eight properties in Hong Kong. So I re-check – it’s now nine. Put yourself in his shoes, and you can see how massively rising prices are absolutely fabulous, and the slightest drop in the market a disaster.

So Chief Executive CY Leung, not wishing to be outdone by our caring plutocrats, is proposing a new layer of subsidized housing for the latest socio-economic band to be priced out of the market. This is probably more PR-while-we-wait-for-whatever-happens than anything else. With prices at economically stupid levels, and 1 in 20 (or maybe more) apartments left empty by absentee owners, we might not strictly need vast amounts of additional units, just economic sanity. Either that or we all end up in subsidized housing, while the private stock sits there unoccupied.

Bottom line: the things that make the tycoons richer quite possibly bring their grip on Hong Kong under greater threat. Certainly, they seem to believe it.

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23 Responses to Tycoons love the kids, really

  1. Stephen says:

    It is a given that Beijing will pick the next CE, just like they picked first three, and even if the non-reform proposals sadly pass the legislature, they will still pick the candidates who Hong Konger’s can “freely” vote for. Semen and Lo define this as true universal suffrage.

    As for that hoary old chestnut of land shortage, hence let’s have 3% of the country parks, horseshite we’ve loads of the stuff! As Disneyland, Cruise Terminal Hub, Bridges to Nowhere and Bullet Train to Guangzhou outer suburbs attest to. What causes high property prices is Government (Lands Department – premiums and zoning), Developer and Bank collusion. As you wonderfully illustrate when Welfare Supremo Matt owns nine properties you know that housing policies aren’t changing any time soon. So hey give the developers some country park space on the cheap, throw in some free infrastructure and hopefully the great unwashed will shut the fuck up. Wrong. Hong Kong has belatedly and largely woken up to the con – especially as very few of them bother with self-censored old media.

    However with the CCP, Tycoons and HK Government all shouting “33 more years of no change” the chances of a root and branch reforms this society needs is unlikely. Will the last one out please switch …

  2. Joe Blow says:

    Mongkok will be occupied by 6000 pigs until Sunday.

    See you all on Monday nite after work.

  3. Cassowary says:

    What a wonderful idea, build in the country parks. Who’s going to get to bid on that land? Who’s going to convince the Town Planning Board that a remote location with pristine mountain views and no public transport is best suited for low density luxury homes? Who’s going to build the housing? Who’s going to flood the airwaves with property commercials for Le Caleçon D’or featuring beauty queens in sparkly gowns traipsing around the south of France? Who’s going to make a crap-ton of practically free money?

    Oooh, Miss, I know, I know!

  4. Scotty Dotty says:

    Housing driving this mess?

    Nah… it’s not housing (much), it’s the lack of a Monopolies & Mergers Commission (a proper one), the lack of a tiered tax regime, the absence of inheritance tax. Implanting those to Hong Kong would significantly, dramatically, change the place and address many of the Occupy grievances.

    And only an administration elected on true universal suffrage has a (slim) chance of making these beefy changes to Hong Kong

    Would Semen (what awful slime he is) et al propose something meaningful like this… silly question. Never in a million.

  5. Brob says:

    tbh, I was kind of disappointed that the Occupy students didn’t switch from universal suffrage to level playing field. They had plenty of time to do so.

  6. Cassowary says:

    In a way, housing is driving this mess because whole tax-farming-cartel-milking edifice constantly jerks people around with these ridiculous property boom-bust cycles. In 2003, 500,000 people marched because among all the idiotic things the government was doing to piss people off, negative equity was personal. So then the bureaucrats figured, fine, we’ll prop up the property prices next time. Then it swung to the opposite extreme and now we’ve got people camping in the streets because among all the other things the government is doing to screw Hong Kong over, people can’t afford to live in a broom closet.

  7. Maugrim says:

    I wouldn’t hold my breath with regards to any alleviation measures. I remember Eddie Ng announcing the Government would bring in subsidised kindergarten places. He actually said it would happen . Three years later however …. I’d also like to register my disgust at the conduct of some members of the constabulary. Racism and physical attacks on what seems to be innocent citizens, if true, is a disgrace to HK.

  8. pie-chucker says:

    What racism, Maugrim? Maybe I missed something.

  9. PD says:

    I may be in a distinct minority, but I’m not totally convinced high property prices are the most important concern for the Occupying 18-year-olds.

    Few viable job prospects, dilution of local culture, low quality of life, increasing bureaucracy, even corruption in government may be just as important for them — in a word no future.

    Why not take them at their face value: what is desperately needed is democracy, which will lead to accountable government, which will at least mean our leaders have to face up to the myriad problems.

    Cassowary, There’s no need to bid for the prime land in the country parks. Most of the most beautiful areas with vehicle access, existing or planned, belong/belonged to the foreign absentee “villagers”, or, in most cases, have been sold for a pittance to the major developers.

  10. Jimmy says:

    I believe he’s referring to this:


    Here’s a digest of last night’s idiocy from our brave boys in blue


  11. Maugrim says:

    Pie Chucker, an anti Triad policeman/woman allegedly telling a woman to ‘go back to India’. The woman replied in Cantonese, ‘you go back to the Mainland’.

  12. PD says:

    PS In the print edn of the SCUMP, Semen is reported as saying “about 20 per cent — ‘a small fraction’ — of country parks should be converted to affordable housing”.

    But online this has been clarified/interpreted to mean “3-5 per cent”…

    [Partial irony warning:] I’m most upset whenever Semen is called a gwai-lou (evil whitey).

  13. Cassowary says:

    Property prices are relevant to 18 year-olds insofar as they’re looking at living with mum and dad and sharing a bedroom with little bro for the next 10-15 years. Most kids are expected to start contributing to their parents’ household as soon as they graduate and get jobs. They typically fork over 20-40% of their salaries to their parents. They are expected to pay whether they live at home or not. Filial piety, and all that. When the average entry level salary is around 12,000 and a fire-trap subdivided room in a crumbling tenement costs upwards of $6,000, there is no possible way they can afford to move out. Wouldn’t you be angry if you graduated from university and had to move back in with your parents until the age of 35?

  14. pie-chucker says:

    Thanks for that, Jimmy/Maugrim. 35 years here and never seen that sort of police aggression, on that scale. The face-to-face anger police/public. To me, it makes the loony tear gas option of those many days ago seem tame.

  15. Cassowary says:

    “Fine, you don’t want us to use tear gas? Then we’ll beat people with sticks! Hope you like your head injuries.”

    CY and his handlers in the Liaison Office must be laughing their asses off.

  16. Hills says:

    Why they always bring that awful Zeman out? Do Chinese think white people like that guy? Or are interested in what he has to say? I personally have difficulties looking at him, all those teeth and skin, but maybe he is a fine gentleman though his love for Mrs Ip is a bit suspect.

  17. Joe Blow says:

    @Scotty: yes, Semen is an awful slime. Boycott Lan Kwai Fong ! It’s the least you can do.

    I just read that Joshua Wong was pelted (and hit) by eggs after leaving the courthouse. Notice to DAB and New People’s Party uncles: 2 can play this game. Stay tuned and cameras ready: you may just get a shot of Vagina Ip with an omelette dripping from her chin.

  18. Scotty Dotty says:

    @ Cassowary

    Agree that pathetic salaries + massive rents = live at home nightmare for Youff in Hong Kong.


    Think there is quite a bit of exaggeration that “gifts” to parents are 20-40% of their income. More like 2-4%

    I know several Hong Kongers who are trapped in these filial contracts (okay, I know two that are willing to share details!). Both say they shift “5% or less” of income to parents and/or other family clingers like Uncle Ho from Shanghai who Pa Pa Ma Ma cooperated with before.

    Their view is very clear – gifting to seniors is much less common in Hong Kong and many only give a little money for face; a few hundred bucks here and there

    I believe this is a reported global trend. The kids are giving Chinese seniors less and less wedge, often nothing at all. Heck, soon they’ll be completely western 🙂

  19. PD says:

    Cassowary, You do have a point, but are you sure the kids themselves have put property as the number 1 problem in their public pronouncements?

    More generally I’m just a little suspicious when the tycoons claim to be worried about high prices.

  20. Cassowary says:

    I saw these numbers from Hong Kong Transition Project. In their latest poll, one of the questions was “about what % of your income do you contribute to your parents?”
    See page 25.

    About a third of 18-29 year olds pay nothing.
    13% pay less than 20%.
    43% pay 20-40%.
    The rest pay more than 40%.

    Unless large numbers of people are grossly exaggerating, parental contribution is alive and well. Plus a lot of people are paying off student loans, not on the scale of the insane Americans of course, but it all means less money to live independently.

    Census data bears it out. The vast majority of young men and women are still living with their parents. The average age of marriage has crept past 30. Nobody can afford to have kids.

    It’s not that the young folk necessarily put property prices front and center in their rhetoric, but being forced by the tycoon class to spend a decade of your life in a state of arrested development has got to be incredibly frustrating.

  21. Scotty Dotty says:

    @ Cassowary

    Thanks for that link and explanation.- it’s a very interesting read

    I see why you made your point although perhaps those numbers could fall either way? It’s not vetted data, so there is likely to be some bluster in some responses. From what I’ve heard those claiming they give the folks “Less than 20%” of their salary means not very much in reality, plus they probably donate infrequently, a few hundred bucks here and there sort of stuff. Looked at it this way, in broad strokes admittedly, there’s a 50/50 chance the kids give the parents nothing or nothing much. If you’re a white hair that’s not great odds!

  22. Qian-Jin says:

    @ Stephen

    “As for that hoary old chestnut of land shortage, hence let’s have 3% of the country parks, horseshite we’ve loads of the stuff! …………..
    As Disneyland,”YES
    Cruise Terminal Hub : YES,
    Bridges to Nowhere : YES
    and Bullet Train to Guangzhou outer suburbs : WRONG

    It is not intended as just a Hong Kong-Guangzhou link. It’ a connection to country’s incredible and widely-admired (overseas) nation-wide network. The high speed railway will bring comfortable and convenient travel options to most most of China’s major cities and in little more time, if any, than that expended on uncomfortable, stressful and often-delayed air travel.

  23. MonkeyFish says:

    @PD et al

    Sorry for the late commenting – IMHO Hong Kong yoof are some of the most remarkable young people in the world, many of whom possess education, skills and international knowledge, but also manage to maintain a street-smart, savvy, entrepreneurial sense of the business of life. This last quality is our true inheritance from our forebears, both gweis and Cantonese, and its degree of depth and breadth in our society is such that its almost like it is encoded in Hong Kongers DNA.

    Almost all HKG young people I have discussed these issues with demonstrate a robust awareness of fundamental economic and political issues, both on a local level, a greater China level, and a global level. For example, everyone is aware that the CCP parks it licit and illicit profits in HKG, and would like to maintain a ring-fence around their assets to protect themselves against major political change on the mainland. Everyone knows the reason property prices are over-extended and almost all other key sectors are dominated by cartels, owned by a small number of local families: i.e. the symbiotic relationship between the CCP, HKG government at senior level, and HKG tycoons. Everyone knows that the CCP has demonstrated a willingness to destroy local cultures and languages through mass migration of Han people. Everyone knows the history of HKG and greater China to a generalist level, i.e. they know about the great leap forward, cultural revolution, tiananmen, falun dafa etc.

    They even have the strategic sense to understand that the HKG government is the weak link in this tripartite alliance, and going after the government offers the best risk profile (and I expect this will shortly extend to the economic measures against tycoons who openly support HKG gov status quo).

    What do they want? A new economic and political order in HKG based on the principles and ideals of truth, accountability, equality of opportunity, egalitarianism, community: in other words a shift or transformation of sociopolitical and economic systems onto a path of increasing economic and political freedom bounded by civil rights. Are they naive enough to believe that Western democracies are without serious flaws? No of course not. Do they believe democracy is a panacea for all of Hong Kong society’s issues? No as well. By and large they believe democracy to be a necessary but insufficient condition for government accountability; accountability to be a necessary but insufficient condition for clean, responsive, and professional government and leadership; such government and leadership to be a necessary but insufficient condition for creating and sustaining a free society, in the face of any external factors that seek to limit or restrict personal rights and liberties in HKG (i.e. economic by tycoons, political by gov and CCP).

    They get it, and IMHO they are the only ones being honest, authentic and real among all the different players in the current situation. They know how to co-ordinate and move quickly, en masse, the leadership structure is permeable and network-based, and they have achieved greater impact in local politics in 2 months, without significant resources or backing, than all the pro- and anti- establishment talking heads in the last 17 years. They aren’t going away, they know they don’t need to win, all they need to do is survive, is to avoid losing, be patient and remain true to the ideals they espouse.

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