The South China Morning Post reports that its (and Alibaba’s) owner Jack Ma is offering to help Hong Kong become a cashless society, thus ‘more fashionable, modern, and efficient’. EJ adds that Tencent also wants to introduce its e-payment systems here.
Twenty years ago, Hong Kong was ahead of the curve with its space-age Octopus Cards – visitors were amazed to see commuters glide through MTR turnstiles with a wave of a handbag or even watch over the ‘doot’ thing. Since then, as we all know, the city has stood still. Meanwhile, the Mainland has leapt ahead of this crappy old contactless chip tech and, according to every hackneyed article on the subject, even the beggars up there accept payment via QR codes and phones.
Hong Kong is not alone in being supposedly backward compared with the Mainland. Japan manages perfectly well with various prepaid cards and good old cash. In the US, people still write cheques. My Octopus doesn’t top itself up automatically, so I only use it for transport, which is apparently medieval – but I get by fine. If it works, why fix it?
The Hong Kong government does not seem in a hurry to prove that e-payment systems could make life easier for us. When the Transport Dept messed up the opening of new highway toll booths in Lantau, it was partly because the majority of drivers pay in cash – they have to pay extra to use the auto-toll system. Meanwhile, as I understand it, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has allowed several e-payment systems to offer services here (some convenience stores accept Mainland ones). But the systems do not connect with one another and struggle to take off.
It’s almost as if our officials, for all their talk of tech and innovation, do not want change, because it would disrupt existing vested interests. Ask Uber. (Octopus – a nice money-spinner, as it enjoys interest-free deposits from the entire population – is owned by the transport operators, several of which are of course part of the property-tycoon cartelized empires. Surprise.)
However, Jack Ma and Tencent might be in a position to override the interests of even our all-important local pro-Beijing shoe-shiner rent-seeking parasites. The Mainland giants’ vision of a ‘fashionable’ cashless society fits in ever-so neatly with the Chinese Communist Party’s dream of data-driven surveillance of every individual, as outlined here and here, for example.
Sesame Street was brought to you today by the word ‘panopticon’.
I declare the weekend open with some reading that may have been missed despite a Wednesday off. Shirley Yam’s last column for the SCMP; Prof Michael Davies as the SCMP’s token dissenting view on Hong Kong’s political prisoners; an Umbrella Movement Christian on (not) forcing Jesus to kowtow to Xi; some more on China, universities and censorship; and… the Great Fences of Lantau.