Forbes the capitalist has wealth of advice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 April, 1993, 12:00am

MALCOLM Forbes Junior, the billionaire editor-in-chief of US business magazine Forbes, is trying to sell his capitalist bible in China.

The Chinese-language Forbes Zibenjia already sells 35,000 copies without access to the China market, he says, adding that every time a business is started in China it increases people's control over their own lives.

Mr Forbes and his publisher Caspar Weinberger, Secretary for Defence under former President Ronald Reagan, zipped through Hongkong yesterday via private jet on a five-day trip taking in Singapore, Malaysia plus the 30-hour flight from New York.

Both the magazine and the Forbes clan have long been capitalist and proud of it - even when capitalism was out of fashion.

Mr Weinberger's tie yesterday carried the words ''capitalist tool'' - a favourite slogan of the magazine.

With 1.2 billion potential capitalists, China is obviously at the forefront of Mr Forbes' mind, although he says that the shaky rule of law still holds back progress, as it has for most of the past 4,000 years.

''They need some rules of the game, what you can and can't do,'' he says.

This is why Hongkong is different, and why he and other Americans fear for Hongkong after 1997.

''They find it abhorrent, the idea of that vibrant piece of real estate reverting back to a totalitarian regime that exhibits very little understanding of the delicate mechanisms that make Hongkong work,'' Mr Forbes says.

''But I think by 1997, assuming the US doesn't do something foolish, the economic growth in China will have reached a momentum that would make a turn back extremely chaotic.'' Mr Forbes is no super-rich stuffed suit.

He startled staff at the Regent Hotel in Kowloon by asking for a vanilla milkshake, and it had to be vanilla, not chocolate, during a Business Post interview.

He peers through round, horn-rimmed glasses that no one in Hongkong would wear even if paid.

Mr Forbes was, until very recently, chairman of the board of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, two US-funded radio stations aiming to provide an alternative to state propaganda, and is a supporter of a similar operation for China, which he expects to get President Bill Clinton's support.

''Most people don't realise how important information is in a totalitarian regime,'' he says - particularly in an information overload society like the US.

When the two radio stations were under threat, former dissidents such as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel lined up to ask that they stay on air.