The idea that Hong Kong young people are driven to the streets purely by too many Mainlanders/not enough housing is simplistic and insulting – they are resisting CCP threats to their city’s freedoms.
But on-one can deny that rising inequality and visibly declining quality of life in Hong Kong add to discontent. So, just as the massive anti-extradition protests have prompted agonizing over the unrepresentative political structure, we currently have an outbreak in pro-establishment circles of Let’s Finally Get Really Serious About Stuff like social harmony and of course housing.
And, just as with the structure, we need to face the possibility that the municipal misgovernance is not an unfortunate accident – but deliberate.
This is a challenge. It’s easy to understand that Leninist Beijing’s system of government for Hong Kong is undemocratic by design. But it’s harder to see so much apparently random assorted crap going wrong as part of a plan, especially if you are not into conspiracy theories.
To put it briefly: the CCP has chosen Hong Kong’s governments for over 20 years now. If the city is being run a particular way all this time, that’s surely because it’s how Beijing wants it.
Every Hong Kong administration since 1997 has had one broad implied policy theme. You can call it ‘to push up housing prices’, ‘to push up rents’, ‘to maximize developers’ margins’, ‘to boost land valuations’ or ‘to accumulate large government surpluses/reserves’. It’s hard to tell which of these is the aim and which are side-effects – but it’s real. As well as obvious manipulation of (and lies about) land supply, we have had around 1 million new immigrants from the Mainland to house, while officials have actively facilitated production of luxury housing for sale to outsiders. At the same time, huge numbers of Mainland tourist-shoppers have swamped public space and seriously distorted the retail sector. All these increase the cost of living and reduce economic opportunities.
Meanwhile, officials under-spend on hospitals and welfare, ignore environmental problems, and maintain a public-school system for the masses that has a hopelessly outdated curriculum. Officials who fret about an aging population (hence the need for immigrants), also tell young people to leave Hong Kong to enjoy Bay Area Opportunities.
Is it paranoid to suspect that the running-down of Hong Kong’s material quality of life is more than just incompetence – but a strategy? For the answer, watch how determinedly Beijing pushes Carrie Lam to finally fix housing.
(Or look at Xinjiang or Tibet, or ask how many speakers of Manchu you run across these days.)