Lai See

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am


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Hong Kong and the law of unintended consequences

The central government has always been concerned at the apparent lack of 'patriotism' or emotional attachment to the mainland on the part of Hongkongers.

Hence the activities of the United Front and its many grass-roots organisations in Hong Kong.

But what are we to make of Sunday's demonstration in the city in support of an investigation into the circumstances of the death of Tiananmen Square dissident Li Wangyang?

A few weeks ago, he was barely known in Hong Kong, but since his death on Wednesday, he has featured on the front pages of most Hong Kong newspapers.

Clearly, people in Hong Kong are concerned about this matter, as evidenced by the large turnout - 25,000, according to the organisers.

A few years ago, you might expect to see a turnout of this size only for something that impinged directly on people's livelihoods.

The central government presumably would like to see Hongkongers take some pride in the rise of China as a political and economic force in the world. And this is clearly happening.

People do feel proud to be part of China and are pleased and excited when their athletes do well at the Olympics, and so on.

But this sort of thing cuts both ways. People are also taking an increasing interest in how China treats its dissidents.

The dilemma for the central government is that the closer to and more integrated Hongkongers feel they are with the mainland, the more interest they take in the fate of people such as Li and blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who recently left China for the United States in a blaze of public interest here in Hong Kong.

Things are such that even Ip Kwok-him, legislative councillor and deputy chairman of the leading Beijing-loyalist party in Hong Kong, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, felt obliged to reverse his earlier stance and said he would write to the central authorities to establish the events surrounding Li's death.

Ip is presumably aware that turning a blind eye could impair his party's standing in the Legislative Council election in September.

Sunday's demonstration is thus an indication that Hongkongers do feel increasingly involved in mainland affairs, albeit not in quite the way the central government had in mind. Such is the law of unintended consequences.

Absurd smoking ban widely ignored

With the arrival of the hot weather and al fresco drinking and dining, the absurdity of the smoking laws is becoming increasingly obvious.

As we know, smoking is banned inside bars and restaurants, but the outside areas in some of these venues remain contentious.

If the area is covered only by a roof of some sort, typically a canvas canopy, then smoking is not banned. But if it is enclosed, say, at least 50 per cent of the total area on all sides, then smoking is prohibited.

The law is widely flouted. As anyone knows, there is not a great deal of difference between sitting inside or in the middle of an outside area under a canopy in which there can be anywhere from 20 to 50 people.

The law was designed to protect staff working at these establishments, but in its present cockeyed form, it doesn't have much effect.

The Tobacco Control Office under the Department of Health takes several days to react to a complaint. The process is similar to that with the ineffective engine idling law.

That is why anti-smoking groups would like Hong Kong to make all public areas smoke-free, including outside areas where members of the public are served food and drinks, whether roofed or not.

They also want the landlords of these establishments to be responsible for banning smoking as they are in other parts of the world, such as Japan, Australia, the United States and Britain, among others. If one of them persists in allowing smoking, then he loses his liquor licence.

The present arrangements are akin to having a non-urinating section in a swimming pool.

British banks: low ROE, big bonuses

We see that British banks are among the most unprofitable in the world, ahead of only Italy's banks. Return on equity, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group, was less than 4 per cent last year, compared with the most profitable banks, which, with an ROE of 26 per cent, are to be found in Indonesia.

ROE was 8 per cent for banks in the US and 22 per cent in China. The lowly return for US and British banks has not prevented executives from awarding themselves some of the highest bonuses in the world.