• Sun
  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 10:31am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 2:30am

Who picks the best leaders? China or the West?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

It was no great surprise when the motion "China Picks Better Leaders than the West" was resoundingly defeated at the Intelligence Squared debate on Monday night. Initially, 14 per cent of the audience supported the motion, 45 per cent were against and 45 per cent were undecided. But when the motion was put to the final vote, 28 per cent were in favour, 65 per cent against and 7 per cent undecided. It was good knockabout stuff.

Daniel Fung Wah-kin made the best of a difficult hand to play in speaking in favour of the motion. He's a senior counsel and was the former solicitor general and stood in at the last minute for Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. She had been unable to take part as the debate clashed with unexpected travel plans, and then it transpired she had been elevated to Exco.

Fung essentially argued that given China's stage of economic development, and without denying its imperfections, its current system was right for now.

Along the way he attracted the biggest laughs when reminding us of a couple of Winston Churchill's remarks on the subject. "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." And then his observation: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Putting the Boots into Hong Kong

Boots, a British healthcare and beauty firm, is having another go at establishing itself in Hong Kong. The company recently opened a store-within-a-store at the President Theatre Mannings in Causeway Bay and will be opening in other selected Mannings.

Readers may recall that Boots embarked on a similar strategy in 2002 by opening stores inside Watsons outlets. At the peak of its operations, it had 52 such stores before closing the last of them in 2007.

A Boots spokeswoman said at the time that the decision to withdraw from Hong Kong was taken after a review of trading and the withdrawal was in line with the group's long-term strategy. No doubt that long-term strategy was revised when Boots woke up and noticed the influx of mainland shoppers to Hong Kong.

Happy Birthday

Where would be without our new technology today? Nobody knows this better than Securities and Futures Commission chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing and Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Norman Chan Tak-lam. They were both born on October 30, 1954, and yes, they texted each other birthday greetings. Rather touching for two 58 year olds. Happy Birthday gents.

Closure in New York

The New York Stock Exchange's closure as a result of Hurricane Sandy has led to some chat about the frequency of the NYSE's "special closings".

It is true that the recent two-day shutdown marks the first time the exchange has shut due to the weather since a blizzard in March 1888 closed it for two days. One day was lost in September 1985 due to Hurricane Gloria, and for a Saturday half-day trading in January 1948 because of a blizzard. There have been five other occasions since 1885 when the trading day was shortened due to snowstorms.

Other closures have marked the deaths and funerals of US presidents, stock exchange chairmen and business leaders. The longest recent closure was the four days that followed the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001. But it was closed for a week in 1865 following the assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln.

There was a 10-day closure in 1873 following the failure of Philadelphia bank Jay Cooke & Company, which caused a financial panic. The exchange's longest-ever closure was for four months following the outbreak of the first world war. There was a two-day closure following the end of the second world war. Trading stopped early following the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963.

Somewhat surprisingly, it closed on the Saturday in February 1901 for the funeral of Britain's Queen Victoria. The coronation of King Edward Vll and his subsequent death were also similarly marked in 1910. It closed for the funeral of financier JP Morgan in 1913. Delayed openings and other closures were because of traffic gridlock in New York, blackouts, computer glitches and because it literally got too hot to operate.

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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