Tycoons' exit would just leave more room for the rest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


When lawmaker and Election Committee member Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung declared on an RTHK talk show that should an inexperienced candidate (which presumably means Leung Chun-ying as Lam is a staunch supporter of Henry Tang Ying-yen) get elected as Hong Kong's next chief executive, capital could flee the city, I could not help but chuckle. Here we go again - threats of a capital exodus to bring Hong Kong citizens and the central government to their knees.

This looked like a rerun of a failed strategy some 30 years ago. Then, China and Britain had not yet begun their negotiations on Hong Kong's political future. Fearing there might be a capital flight from China's single biggest source of foreign exchange, Deng Xiaoping specifically asked Murray MacLehose, the then governor of Hong Kong, to tell investors to relax.

In return, local property developers told Beijing they did not have confidence in 'one country, two systems', and fought for a seat at the bargaining table. This demand was categorically rejected as a 'three-legged stool' by Beijing, triggering a sustained outflow of capital and educated manpower for over a decade. Despite that, Hong Kong grew more prosperous and, in the end, most of that capital and personnel returned after the handover.

However, keeping the capitalist system intact is the most fundamental spirit of 'one country, two systems' and China made quite a few accommodations to the business sector in the Basic Law. In the 15 years since the handover, property interests in Hong Kong have enjoyed unprecedented privileges, resulting in gross social injustice and the charge of government-business collusion.

Hong Kong's nurturing of so many rich families is testimony to the degree of exploitation suffered by the 99per cent. This is not a pride of the city, but a great shame.

Unlike the last time, these business tycoons now need Hong Kong and China more than their country and home city need them. Should they choose to treat this city from which they made their fabulous fortunes only as a flea market, wanting to get out in times of difficulty, they are most welcome.

Most of us would applaud their leaving and hope they never return.

Once these egocentric tycoons pack up and go, the room they leave behind will be quickly snapped up by other local entrepreneurs and mainland corporations and multinationals. These businesses are now being squeezed out by the tycoons' monopolistic power. With Western economies a shambles, East Asia - with China at the centre - is the only powerhouse. I wonder where these rich families would land after fleeing Hong Kong.

In an interview, the city's No1 tycoon Li Ka-shing expressed optimism about the British economy and expressed an interest in putting more money there. We wish him luck. Where else, then? China, of course. Our tycoons are welcome to make even bigger fortunes there. Hong Kong is, it seems, too small a playground for these giants. The mainland, with its vast potential, is therefore the ideal place to park their capital.

One thing is certain, should Leung become chief executive, there is going to be a big power shift, accompanied by a redistribution of wealth among various sectors of the population, as well as different factions of the business community. This seems inevitable; the pendulum has swung much too far to one side, leaving most people unhappy. It has to swing back the other way. Hong Kong is not alone; people worldwide are opting for change.

If we handle it well, with a little help from the north, the swing back will be smooth and gentle. Hong Kong has been a business hub for the past 170 years and we have never had anti-business sentiment. To most people, government-business collusion is natural and also good if the government allies itself with all business to generate more opportunities, and not just a few tycoons.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development