Hong Kong’s (dys)functional constituencies simply help big business defend the status quo and oppress the economy
Localists are not monsters. They want what we want: safety, security, health and prosperity
Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
In Hong Kong’s case, different people, similar problem.
Of the 70 members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, one-half represent functional constituencies. They were not meant to be a democratic body or process. Instead, guaranteed representation to special interests were meant to give major sections of the economy political influence in what used to be a business-oriented colony.
Instead of reflecting the city’s changing economy and society, the functional constituencies have turned out to be the mechanism with which conglomerates, construction firms, industries and property developers, among others, defend their status quo and oppress the economy.
Hong Kong’s functional constituencies breed its own from of dysfunctional decrepitude through their inability to accommodate for changes, which are undeniably needed.
The tyranny of history echoes through them and insidiously suffocates any attempt at economic and political reform.
Despite the scathing attacks on them, the young and inexperienced localist representatives in Legco implicitly understand that their disrespectful behaviour isn’t the real problem.
Legco and its functional constituencies are not truly worthy of respect in an age when citizens believe they deserve full democracy and control over their affairs. No matter how you slice and dice the representation, there really is no satisfactory substitute for a genuinely representative democracy.
Our city’s narrow business and property interests frustrate any deviation from the status quo of mega-infrastructure projects like the third airport runway that feeds big companies instead of improving social welfare.
It prevents proper policing of the cartels that plague the economy. As my fellow columnist Mike Rowse pointed out last week it even frustrates an attempt to clear an illegal parking lot in the New Territories.
The localists are not monsters. They want what we want: safety, security, health and prosperity. It’s not us versus them. It’s just us. They are the vanguard of an insurgent democracy.
Hong Kong’s faltering competitiveness is cruelly reflected in the hollow, outdated 1980s slogans from our bureaucrats. “Low taxes, efficient infrastructure and rule of law” are no longer incentives for attracting startups or even established businesses. Taxes don’t affect startups (technology or otherwise) because they make little to no profit in their early stages.
And efficient transport doesn’t seem to be important to running a tech company if you go to San Francisco and witness the traffic jams. What is important is creating conditions for the congregation of really smart and creative people, some of whom are unconventional and even unlikeable.
Hong Kong’s rule of law has diminished in absolute importance over the last 20 years. Foreign companies and banks are increasingly willing to directly deal with and subject themselves to Chinese law.
Look at the recent film production deals proposed to Hollywood by Wanda and its mainland billionaire owner Wang Jianlin.
Last week, he hosted a gala event at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It attracted an entire list of Hollywood A-listers ranging from studio heads to celebrities to local politicians.
There was no mention of Hong Kong as a media hub. Wanda completely bypassed the concept of Hong Kong as a media centre or bridge to China.
Earlier this month, technologist, author and former senior advisor for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alec Ross spoke at Julius Baer’s “Next Generation Summit” in Hong Kong.
He said, “The pace of change will accelerate over the next 20 years. A Chinese generation gap is growing up digital and hoping for good bilateral relationships with America. Young people in China have more in common with US young people than ever before.”
So as Hong Kong’s business and government elite attempt to guess Beijing’s plans, mainland companies are widely projecting themselves internationally.
For all the power of Hong Kong’s vaunted business class, they are insignificant to China’s mercantile and technological expansion. Thus, Hong Kong renders itself increasingly irrelevant through its economic and political ossification.
Inequality, immigration, stagnation are resolvable when leaders act boldly. Leaders must be willing to defy the odds to achieve success. But the Hong Kong government and its crippling functional constituencies are paralysed in the face of pragmatic reform. Leaders need to embrace the possibilities that crises present while respecting and improving upon a system of checks and balances.
An editorial in Ta Kung Pao said that no one should “underestimate the resolve and confidence of the central [authorities] in eliminating separatism”.
Little do they understand that separatism has already occurred in Hong Kong in mind and spirit.