• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 4:02am
The View
PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:21am

Fight against universal suffrage is all about money

HK's worst nightmare is not the relatively mild civil disobedience of Occupy, but Beijing's implicit sanction of our tycoons and their cartels

With cruelty and irony, our city's media accurately reflects the gaping divide between the oligarchs who own Hong Kong and the citizen serfs who must dwell within the walls of this city.

Every local paper either features or vilifies the Occupy insurgency and the apparent counter-insurgency being mounted against it. Then, one of our local society magazines parades a mainland family's vulgar display of wealth through a wedding in the French Riviera or a million-dollar party celebrating the first 100 days of a newborn child.

Hong Kong faces its equivalent of a constitutional crisis that will define its future. The only contributions from our government and business elites are either stern and condescending admonitions or a taunting look inside the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

At last, someone influential explained that Hong Kong and Beijing's struggle was not for democratic principles or process, but for who had the right to control Hong Kong's economy and industry. It was always about money.

Speaking in Hong Kong last week, Wang Zhenmin, a dean of Tsinghua University Law School and a former member of the Basic Law Committee who acts as an adviser to the central government, defended the plan, saying: "Less-than-perfect universal suffrage is better than no universal suffrage."

He emphasised it was important to protect the interests of the business community in the city. "They control the destiny of the economy of Hong Kong. If we ignore their interest, Hong Kong capitalism will stop."

Hong Kong has always been a practical and capitalistic society where democracy is an abstract, foreign concept because it was never available. After all, democracy is a difficult concept to define and describe in both theory and practice. But people do know when their basic rights as free people are denied or infringed upon.

Now that there is a sliver of possibility, the greatest fear of the business sector is not just populist welfare policies - Hong Kong can afford to help its poor - but the dismantling of their cartels and a challenge to their predatory business practices.

Wang described how the business sector must continue to have a voice in the nominating committee that will determine chief executive candidates.

"The business and professional sectors will constitute a minority when universal suffrage arrives. But their voices are important so we need to ensure they can still serve their main function - maintaining the city's prosperity - or else Hong Kong will face great problems," he said.

Just how Hong Kong's capitalism would cease or how its richest families would maintain stability and prosperity was not addressed.

If Wang implies that the central government thinks Hong Kong's economy would collapse when its indigenous rich class pulls out, then he should consider the avalanche of international private equity and multinational money that would eagerly replace them in every business and property sector.

This is the kind of healthy economic system that the mainland can never countenance - a freer economy with the inherent chaos of competitive markets that shows capitalism at its best. Helping to entrench dominant oligopolies drastically lowers everyone's standard of living. Hong Kong's conglomerates and property developers are inflicting excessive and concentrated economic rent seeking upon the entire economy - or even worse, fuelling social and economic unrest.

Hong Kong's worst nightmare is not the relatively mild civil disobedience of Occupy and inconvenient protests in Central. It is Beijing's implicit sanction of our tycoons and their cartels. Even the slightest migration to "one person, one vote" threatens the grip that big business holds over this economy.

While mainland agencies investigate the business practices and product quality of Microsoft Corp or H&M, Hong Kong authorities cannot require the executives and owners of local property developers and supermarket chains to testify at investigative hearings. The city's oligarchs are protected like its monarchs.

In the 21st century, it is both strange and backward that the Hong Kong government cannot subpoena business owners or executives to testify about their business practices, such as why flats are so poorly constructed or why the prices of raspberries fluctuate so much.

However, this is possible if the people could exercise their collective will through a democratically elected government. Therein lie the true opportunity and the threat of democracy.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker

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This article is now closed to comments

paulcarolan
The pact between HK's business elite and nominally 'communist' overlords is an extraordinary yet powerful alliance that has society in a vice like grip. It is not just democracy that cannot develop in this environment but the more meaningful ability of most citizens to share in economic opportunity so as to improve living standards and secure a decent future for their families.
chaz_hen
One of the best assessments written on these pages in months! Thank you, Peter!
arrkb
Alas, you're right on the mark. This unholy alliance between the CCP and local tycoons will be the ruin of us all. It isn't just the Occupy activists. You can feel the lack of hope among the young people of this city. It's all so disheartening.
johnyuan
High marks for PG for a timely revelation about the state of Hong Kong at the time of the fate of its 7 millions must seem to be decided. The article is nothing less than a comment on the Sunday’s meeting in Beijing. For me, I will not interpret the outcome of that meeting as business as usual even though the proposed make up of the nomination committee remains the same, but politics of greater China will continue to turn a new page. Hong Kong will be behind in its development if seeing that business is as usual it must.
54038b82-1d68-428d-9af5-52b80a3209cb
Peter Guy, why is this happening all over the world, the return to the Dark Ages? Why are millions of us, all victims of capitalism in the extreme, letting it happen, letting the oligarchs and the plutocrats destroy our lives and our children's lives.
We have been badly let down. No one is telling the truth, including the media.
johnyuan
Agree. I may add that the ring leader in revisit of the Dark Ages we need not to look far. It is here in Hong Kong.
.
With the help of the Heritage Foundation, Hong Kong practices predatory business with impunity. Hong Kong has inspired the world over of its economic success with emulation. Subprime disaster in US and property development over anything in China that lesser government control the better.
.
It is no surprise things finally break down. We see a different brand of leadership emerged to salvage the lawlessness of the business sector. Obama, Xi Jinping and even CY Leung aren’t elected to be just business as usual.
.
Hong Kong, the ring leader of socially irresponsible business practice we must still focus on LKS and the likes how much effort they are exerting in protecting their rights to make money. The only check on them as they see it is only by time limit when the handover of Hong Kong is complete. I hope the 7 million inhabitants in Hong Kong are more capable than letting their future continue to be in the hands that don’t really care of them.
birddog22
Finally somebody GETS IT! Marx was right. It is all about class struggle. How ironic that the only major surviving communist party in the world is the greatest defender and supporter of the capitalists! It is easy to say that it is the same situation everywhere in the world, but such words are only believed by the sheltered and unworldly. It is terrible in some places, and only merely bad in others. In HK, it is among the worst in the world.
pslhk
The mouth-as-stickholder act looks gross to me
So it took a while before I looked at the writing
which turned out like a caption for the photo
-
Oligarchs own not just HK but the world
from which there isn’t an exit for citizen serfs
the 99% rendered redundant by technology
in the age of overcapacity that short-circuits money circulation
in the economy where the principal actors are
Wall Street Capitalists
Oligarchs
Technologists and managers
First World welfare recipients
Third World factory workers
-
Wall Street is structured to siphon money from 99% to 1%
The Fed has to prints money for welfare and the military
the latter is necessary to ensure value for the money printed
That’s why HKMA is no Fed
-
Whether HK government can subpoena business owners is a matter of law
which must be viewed against the fact that HK law is a colonial legacy
the most backward and undeveloped institution
where incompetent lawyers much prefer playing politics to lawyering
Aren’t the Kowk brothers in court to answer money queries?
-
Occupy Central is a copycat of Wall Street’s percentage battle
Universal suffrage is about money
but not the way the “stickholder” befuddles
“the kind of healthy economic system” that he mouthed
is one that no government in the world can countenance
snelderj
A banker may only have money in their eyes, China is more concerned about absolute control. They have very little regard for rich people and can prosecute them all the same if not more severely as they deem necessary. Thinking the party's concern is just about money is rather naive, but unfortunately that's how most HK people approach the problem and get it all wrong.
kctony
Of course control is everything. It didn't work well with the Mao version. So the new version - never a bad idea to have control while having a few rich friends.

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