My Take

There's method in the message madness

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 1:44am

Whatever you say about the mainland and its allies in Hong Kong, they have message discipline. Maybe too much discipline!

In just this week, I have come across at least three different people who said the same thing: the new free-trade zone in Shanghai will threaten Hong Kong's premier status as a trade and financial hub. Unless we in Hong Kong show unity and improve our economic competitiveness, we will be left behind. And all three then go on to criticise Occupy Central or local democratic politics.

Who are these three? On Tuesday, Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, warned that the zone would have a bigger and quicker impact on Hong Kong than most imagined. The next day, Yu Zhengsheng, the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, sounded a similar warning.

The same sentiment was sounded by Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, who said Hong Kong should think deeply about whether it wanted to focus on political struggle or economic development.

Oh, actually, I lost count. A senior pro-Beijing figure at a dinner hosted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying this week made exactly the same points to fellow guests, among whom were several pan-democrats. Gag rule prevents me from naming him or her, however.

Whenever mainland officials have to put a point across, it will have as many people as possible repeating the same thing over and over. That's united-front messaging, after which you get so tired your resistance is eventually broken and the message is drilled into your synapses.

With the pan-democrats, it's the opposite. These people have no message discipline. Indeed, it's likely they will disagree and fight each other before they pick on opponents. It appears that if you ask 10 different pan-democrats about something, say, universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election, they will come up with eight different and possibly conflicting proposals.

Most voters the world over don't like being denied choices. They don't like being confused and given too many choices either. Hong Kong voters are no different.