Wharf Holdings

Outsiders have clearer view of our city's true excellence

Hongkongers need to believe how good their home is and play a part in keeping it successful

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 May, 2013, 5:24am

There is a Chinese proverb that says: "Bystanders see clearer than players".

The Wharf (Holdings) chairman Peter Woo seemed to be making that point in his chairman's statement in the group's annual report. He noted that Hong Kong had become the top brand and the place to go for many goods and services mainlanders preferred. Thus, the current extraordinary surge in demand from the mainland should be treated as a "happy" problem, even though it challenged the city's capacity and creativity.

Here he was subtly referring to tensions between Hongkongers and mainlanders triggered by the growing demand on many fronts from across the border.

"We certainly have ample fiscal means and the capacity to deal with our political and social issues," Woo wrote. "Perhaps we, ourselves, are still not believers of our own success, something international observers would find strange. The sky has not fallen and it is not going to fall; we can handle any problem."

Woo does not normally comment on current affairs, but his words carry weight. He took over his business empire from his late father-in-law, shipping tycoon Sir Yue-kong Pao, in the 1980s. He has since expanded a significant part of the group's business to the mainland, while maintaining its leading status in Hong Kong.

He was one of four candidates to run for the post of first chief executive of Hong Kong back in 1996. After losing to Tung Chee-hwa, he returned to the family business, but he also took up some important public service positions, including that of chairman of the Trade Development Council from 2000 to 2007.

Woo is not alone in his view that Hongkongers sometimes do not appreciate their own success. Many businesspeople privately share his view. However, the public may not be of one mind on the issue. There are always people who are more optimistic or pessimistic.

In recent years there has been an increasing number of complaints in our community, either on livelihood issues - such as the rich-poor gap - or pollution, soaring property prices, our education system and various troubles caused by the influx of mainlanders. There has also been discussion on the growing perception that there is "collusion between business and government" and, of course, there is the political debate on universal suffrage.

Some middle-class people are saying they now cannot help but consider moving to another country, although they had never thought about that before, even during the handover.

Government officials in Beijing and Hong Kong are trying hard to tackle this growing discontent, but there are no positive results yet. When Beijing releases preferential measures to boost the city's economy, the side effects of cross-border conflict emerge.

And when the Hong Kong government initiates a policy it believes will keep Hongkongers happy, it is disappointed, too. The ongoing "Hong Kong: Our Home" campaign, which cost more than HK$2 million and is staging hundreds of events to promote a sense of harmony in the city, has not been very well received, because it is regarded as a political show.

As a major player in the business sector, Woo rightly pointed out the phenomenon that some outsiders see Hong Kong as more successful than we believe it to be. Diagnosing the phenomenon is the first step; finding the solution is the next and we all have a role to play.

Firstly, we must agree that Hong Kong is our home. Then it is a matter of making our people believe in their own strength and think how they can contribute to maintain the city's leading edge. We certainly do not want to see the day when not just us, but also outsiders no longer think Hong Kong is successful.