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Hong Kong business leaders fear political strife could hold city back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2015, 11:51am

Members of Hong Kong's business elite say they fear that mounting political gridlock threatens the city's ability to flourish in a changing world.

A growing number of Hongkongers are turning on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration amid a slew of scandals, a perceived lack of progress on political reform and record-high housing prices. Street marches and protests are on the rise, with the threat of a shutdown of the streets in Central looming next summer if no progress is made towards universal suffrage.

Speaking at a seminar on the city's future hosted by the Post yesterday, businessman Vincent Lo Hong-shui said: "Business is deeply involved with politics."

"Unfortunately, the community in Hong Kong has become overly critical," said Lo, chairman of listed developer Shui On Group. He feels the businessmen who have gone into politics have done little to help. "A lot of former businessmen don't speak on behalf of their industry any more after becoming politicians. How would that work?"

"I am very worried about the political situation in Hong Kong - my biggest worry for the city," Lo said.

Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng, chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong, compared the current mentality of Hong Kong people towards business opportunities to "11 footballers staying in defence mode" rather than moving forward to try to score goals.

"Within Hong Kong, we did very crap," Hung said. "We are fighting each other and spending most of our energy doing that."

The city's high standard of living and its standing as an efficient and productive financial market, as well as its role as a logistics and shopping hub, have made it an attractive destination both for expatriate workers and international tourists.

But despite its world-class legal and civic infrastructure, the political system remains underdeveloped and the power to elect the chief executive remains in the hands of a "small circle" election committee largely made up of establishment figures, including many of the city's powerful tycoons.

Beijing has indicated that the next chief executive poll in 2017 can take place by universal suffrage, and pressure is mounting on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to start a consultation on electoral reform amid fears the poll will be limited to candidates loyal to the central government.

Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung told the seminar: "There is no conflict between so-called integration with the mainland and maintaining Hong Kong's characteristics.

"I think you are wrong to try to say the choice is one or the other. The Hong Kong-mainland integration is about opportunities, people, culture and so on. At the same time, Hong Kong owns its own values, characteristics, strengths, which we haven't emphasised or enhanced."

"If Hong Kong can't maintain its strengths, it cannot compete anywhere in the world," Chan said. "The message [about the strengths of Hong Kong] sometimes gets lost."