It's business as usual
The composition of the Hong Kong delegation to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is by no means a microcosm of Hong Kong society.
The disproportionately high number of delegates from the business sector underlines the central government's 'united front' effort directed towards Hong Kong's business elite in the past two decades.
The united front policy sought to build a broad base of support from beyond the Communist Party, and in Hong Kong it focused on wooing the business elite.
Of the roughly 200 Hong Kong delegates to the nation's top advisory body, more than 60 per cent are businesspeople. On the provincial level, 90 per cent of the Hong Kong delegates to the provincial chapters of the CPPCC in Guangdong and Fujian are businesspeople.
Among the 950 delegates to the Guangdong chapter of the CPPCC, 130 come from Hong Kong and Macau, with more than 100 being businesspeople. Of the remaining 820 delegates from the province, just 69 come from the business community.
The situation is in stark contrast to two decades ago, when businesspeople accounted for fewer than half of local CPPCC delegates. At that time, delegates from traditional leftist organisations, professional and cultural sectors formed the backbone of Hong Kong's delegation.
In the early 1990s, Beijing stepped up its united front policy towards Hong Kong's business community and the seats on the CPPCC have been used to reward businesspeople who support Beijing's policy towards the city.
A mainland academic familiar with Hong Kong affairs said the lion's share of seats for Hong Kong delegates went to the business sectors in the past two decades because of the central government's need to ensure a smooth transfer of sovereignty and stability in the city.
The Hong Kong delegation is virtually a list of the city's rich and powerful. It comprises tycoons like Wharf Holdings chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching, Hopewell Holdings chairman Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, Sino Land chairman Robert Ng Chee Siong, Shui On Group chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui, and Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, son of Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing.
Tai Hay-lap, a Hong Kong delegate to the CPPCC and a secondary school principal, said there had been an imbalance in the composition of Hong Kong's delegation.
'When I was appointed a CPPCC delegate in 2003, I was one of the few with a non-business background,' he said. 'I hope more people from the education sector and other professions are appointed in the future.'
The imbalance has drawn the attention of Chen Mingyi, deputy director of the Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of the CPPCC. Speaking at a panel discussion of the CPPCC on Tuesday, Chen said businesspeople make up 90 per cent of Hong Kong's delegation to the CPPCC. It wasn't clear whether he was referring to the national or provincial level.
'With Hong Kong preparing for universal suffrage in 2017, there is a need to recruit more people such as intellectuals and professionals from sectors such as science and technology, health and the media,' Chen said. The changes should take effect when the CPPCC's new five-year term begins next year, he said.
The mainland academic believed Chen's views were shared by some mainland officials.
Chen was a party secretary of Fujian province in the 1990s, where Vice-President Xi Jinping was his deputy. Xi is expected to be named as President Hu Jintao 's successor this year.
James Tien Pei-chun, a Hong Kong delegate to the CPPCC and honorary chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party, said it was natural for businesspeople to form the overwhelming majority of the city's delegation. 'Hong Kong excels in financial services and trade. Businesspeople are able to offer advice to the country if they are appointed to the CPPCC,' he said.
Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu doubted Chen's remarks signalled an imminent shift in Beijing's united front policy towards Hong Kong. 'Chen's comments and suggestion are sensible. But the central government will continue to count on the support of big businesses in Hong Kong,' he said.
More than this proportion of Hong Kong's 200 delegates to the nation's top advisory body are businesspeople