Eden Woon Yi-teng has never been one to pull punches and he is not about to change. Even as he prepares to return to his birthplace of Shanghai next month after steering the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce for nine often tumultuous years, he still has a few bones to pick here. 'I feel we are in pretty good economic shape for the next three years - five years if you want to be optimistic,' Dr Woon said. 'But there are a lot of structural issues here that need to be addressed and I think they are very difficult because they all require political manoeuvring.' He is referring to battles over issues such as the electricity market's scheme of control, the West Kowloon site, civil service reform, broadening the tax base, competition policy, education reform and further constitutional development, which he is certain will 'come up after a year or two'. He said that, while Hong Kong was still in the enviable position of being the only international city in the world that could claim to have such a close relationship with the mainland, it suffered from an 'awkward' political system that played havoc with the ability of the government to promote the city's economic development over the long term. 'Hong Kong, from a macro level, has lots of advantages,' he said. 'But it needs to deal with a demanding society and a changing world of globalisation where the role of the government is increasingly important to be competitive. Whether or not we can do this in the long run and help Hong Kong continue to be competitive after five years is the big question. That requires a lot of work by the government. 'My personal view is that the political system here makes it very difficult. It's an awkward political system. I don't buy the solution that the magic pill is direct elections and that, if you have direct elections tomorrow, everything will be solved. But on the other hand, I think keeping the status quo is no solution for the long-term competitiveness of Hong Kong.' That was why the chamber was calling for a road map for constitutional reform to get the ball rolling and foster constructive public discussion on the way forward, Dr Woon said. He noted that it was not imperative to immediately set a deadline for direct elections in a road map, but that having a road map in hand would provide the foundation to study 'what is it that will make direct elections a good pill at some time'. 'What sort of disappoints me is that there are not enough discussions on these foundations and building blocks,' Dr Woon said. 'I think that, whether you like it or don't like it, the business community has a big influence here in Hong Kong. The business community has a lot of influence in Beijing because Beijing basically would like to see Hong Kong as an economic entity. So, if you want any progress in constitutional development, you really have to address some of the concerns of the business community. Whether or not some of these concerns are correct or not correct is not the point. The point is that they are there in their hearts. So, if you were a person who wants political development, you ought to seriously look at what those things are instead of just dismissing them.' He pointed to the debate on broadening the tax base as one of the chasms that had divided public opinion lately. He said both camps were dismissive of each other's views, with some arguing against democratic reform because of fears that too few people would end up spending a lot of people's money. Dr Woon said that broadening the tax base was good for Hong Kong. He hoped that the government's Commission on Strategic Development, of which he will remain a member, would help in this area. This apparent political stranglehold is what Dr Woon sees as the primary obstacle to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen flexing his political muscle for the city's economic development. 'There are some things he wants to do with the economy that he can't. We like to have the opening up to human capital, so he has this little talent importation scheme,' he said. 'But it does not go far enough because he is politically hampered. That is probably the most he can do and I sympathise. 'What you've got to do is go out and promote and find talent, in Frankfurt, Sao Paulo and Nanjing , but I don't think, politically, that will go over here. I think the political system makes it so that the minority here has much more power than their numbers. 'This system makes it difficult to be a chief executive. And, in Hong Kong, you throw in the Beijing factor and what Beijing expects this person to do.' This difficulty has not dampened Dr Woon's interest in policy issues but he stresses that he has no interest in the political sphere. 'I always say that Hong Kong gives politics a bad name,' Dr Woon said. 'The politics practised here, if you want to grade it, is mostly not that great. There are lots of conspiracy theories and who said what. If somebody proposes a policy, they don't analyse the policy. They try to figure out who you had lunch with before, so you stand for that position, or whether his relatives work for that person. That's the first thing in people's minds. Maybe I'm too naive and everybody does have an ulterior motive. 'Here, it's about the length of the handshake and whether the person has a seven-second handshake or a three-second handshake. We never talk about the difference between Henry Tang [Ying-yen, the financial secretary] and Donald Tsang. What's the difference? I'm sure there is a difference between what they stand for but it's never talked about.' Dr Woon, 59, may never have the answer to that question, but he will not be entirely removed from policy issues after he departs the chamber at the end of this month. From May 1, he will be employed as China vice-president of Starbucks Coffee Company, and handle government affairs, public affairs and corporate social responsibility for the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. One of the issues he will work on is the piracy of brands and the protection of intellectual property rights. As recently as January this year, the Shanghai No2 Intermediate People's Court fined a Shanghai coffee company for 'illegitimate competition' when it used the Chinese name of Starbucks and copied the design of its coffee houses. 'I think the first phase, if you wish, was the last five years,' Dr Woon said. 'Phase two is a new aggressive push into the China market. So, to be at the beginning of this phase two is to me fate. I've always liked things like this. 'China is moving in the direction of leisure and lifestyle and I've always liked that, because those are the things that are really up and coming, so it's an interesting field. If I had to go sell fertilisers, I would probably not be interested.' Dr Woon will head to the company's Seattle headquarters first for about three weeks to undergo training and orientation and 'learn how to make coffee' before taking up his post in Shanghai. Ironically, he will make his new home near the hospital where he was born in 1947. 'Starbucks is an interesting company. It's not some XYZ fast food company,' he said. 'They really believe in culture and how they treat staff, which they call partners, and they have a lot of corporate social responsibility. They do a lot for coffee farmers, they have fair trade and their own certification, where they look at the living standards and the whole gamut of how farmers live. They also just put in US$5 million for a China education fund and the first phase is to train rural teachers in the poorer western [provinces].' In case you were wondering, Dr Woon does not currently own any stock in Starbucks.