Populist politicians threaten Hong Kong's economic stability

Jeffrey Lam decries the tactics used by some lawmakers to win over voters, to the detriment of Hong Kong's economic stability

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 12:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 3:16am

Populism is taking hold in Hong Kong, fuelling investor concerns. The Legislative Council election is not until 2016, but we are already seeing more and more cases of politicians taking extreme positions on social issues to play to the gallery.

Some lawmakers, particularly those in the geographical constituencies, think their responsibility is to speak on behalf of "the public" rather than discuss or persuade them about the right and wrong of things. The problem is that their constituents are more concerned with immediate self-interests than with long-term benefits for society as a whole.

Aiming to win voters' favour, some politicians simply pander to the public mood. For instance, despite city-wide support for new town development in northeastern New Territories, some politicians keep employing tactics to delay the approval of the plans, in a bid to pacify the hundreds of activists that gathered outside the Legco complex to oppose development. This resulted in the violent protest last Friday.

In view of the "Occupy Central" campaign, which could easily be hijacked by radical groups, the threat of populism should not be underestimated. Business leaders, for one, have raised concerns about the stability of the business environment. Only recently, chambers of commerce and other groups, both local and foreign, have expressed worry that Occupy Central could add uncertainty to our economy.

Their worry that Hong Kong's economic success could be undermined is not unfounded.

One example is the endless round of protests against mainland visitors, in which some activists have disrupted business operations in tourist districts. Despite public understanding of the economic contribution and employment opportunities brought by the tourists, the authorities seem unable to stop the protesters from bothering the shops and tourists at will.

For the business sector, the protection of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom. Due to the growing populism, private property ownership - an essential element of promoting economic growth and development - is no longer respected. The protesters claim the moral high ground in organising opposition and demanding owners give up their legitimate rights.

Public sentiment towards businesspeople has also become increasingly hostile. For many years, the city has been proud of its market-led economic development and the high-quality products and services offered by our business sector. Now, many successful businessmen, once idolised, are instead seen as enemies of the city.

They have been blamed for causing wealth disparities and even colluding with the government. But are these accusations and campaigns fair to those who have worked very hard to achieve what they have achieved today?

The constant attacks on the business sector from radicals and populist politicians certainly create more uncertainty in the city and this is not good for the business environment. If this cynical campaign does not end, more people, along with the business sector, will become victims of instability in the economy.

Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung is a legislative councillor in the commercial (first) functional constituency