Mind the Gap

Why Hong Kong’s rich like to pretend they can avoid politics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2016, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:26am

Mixing business and politics has never been the Hong Kong way. It is actually an abhorrent topic. Local businesspeople condescend to politicians. Local civil servants are only respected insofar as they are needed as part of the process of making money. Despite the political coverage in local newspapers, it is a surprisingly uncomfortable subject.

Hong Kong has been described as a pure business town. Everyone who fled or emigrated here sought a level of personal freedom not found anywhere else in Asia. Living in a business oriented society and economy free from political encumbrances is a dream that ended in 1997. Before 1997 no one wasted their time on politics because it was a British colony.

It was the best of times. I only wish someone told me.

The wealth gap widens in Hong Kong education

Unfortunately, no one told our business establishment. Even almost 20 years after the handover, Hong Kong’s business elite appears visibly uncomfortable with weaving the role of politics in their past and future success alongside society.

Political discourse in Hong Kong among the elite business class takes on an especially childish and petulant tone littered with indignant, self-entitled attitude. Their dialectic is positioned in the most condescending terms – it is forbidden to discuss how their business practices contribute to Hong Kong’s woes.

They can’t understand that negotiating for the rezoning of a property is an act of political influence. Politics can simply be defined as the means for competing for resources. And yesterday’s populace who were looked upon by tycoons to be the anonymous, murmuring commonality of rickshaw drivers and coolies are today serfs chained to their overpriced flats. But they are now challenging them on every political front.

The Mong Kok riots are a wake up call about the widening wealth gap

It is no surprise that media and tobacco baron Charles Ho Tsu-kwok ended up exchanging unconstructive and sarcastic barbs with 19-year-old activists. He said that youngsters yearning for an independent Hong Kong are “easily manipulated” because they have yet to achieve anything on their own. “Those young people have yet to find a job.”

In the same week, Peter Lam Kin-ng, the city’s tourism chief and a local delegate to China’s top political advisory body, slammed the low-budget political drama Ten Years. He said, “Politics has kidnapped the profession and politicised film awards.”

As the head of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, Lam should realise he occupies a political position that determines how taxpayers’ resources are directed. To complain about a political film not only seems hypocritical, but incredibly self-serving.

Love it or hate it, Ten Years points to the common enemy in Hong Kong politics – fear

And without descending into a film review, consider that local filmgoers are tired of being regurgitated the mind-numbing themes of triad brotherhood, period stories exalting the marshal glory of Han Chinese and puerile comedies. They want to see stories about things that matter to their lives – just like the other places.

Hong Kong’s brand of moral corrosion makes wealthy people actually think that they have real power over the rest of us, that we must tremor in their presence. It is most palpable when you flip through Hong Kong’s society magazines, which exult at their elevated pedigree while coaxing readers to believe they are the best role models. If they really have some overarching control over the population or economy, they should try and exercise it.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker