Hong Kong's elite clueless about the pain of coping with tourist flood

Michael Chugani says many of those with power and influence in Hong Kong are out of touch with the realities of everyday life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 3:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 1:40am

Let me tell you why there is such societal anger, polarisation, and public contempt in Hong Kong for those with power and influence. It is because of people like Shirley Yuen, Caroline Mak Sui-king, and Greg So Kam-leung who represent big business and government. They influence policies that affect the people but live in a world of their own, completely clueless about what the people really want.

We saw that when So, the commerce secretary, insisted Hong Kong could handle millions more mainland visitors while haughtily telling passengers who complained about MTR overcrowding to wait for the next train. Last week, Yuen, the chief executive of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, showed us how lost she is in her own world in an article in this newspaper.

And this week Mak, the chairwoman of the Retail Management Association, gave Hongkongers more reason to loathe big business by doing what big business here always does - putting profits above people. Mak, together with other business group bosses, warned of an economic earthquake if Hong Kong cut back on the over 40 million mainland visitors who come here yearly.

These are the same people who warned of doomsday if Hong Kong had a minimum wage law. The wage has now risen from its original HK$28 an hour to a still paltry HK$30 but I am still waiting for doomsday. They now say a cut in mainland visitors will make thousands jobless, and cause a HK$40 billion economic loss.

What they really mean is that fat cat landlords, and jewellery and cosmetic chain store owners who pay meagre wages but reap billions in profits, will take a hit. If the mainland flood is so wonderful for our economy, why do we still have 1.3 million poor people?

I'll tell you why. The tycoons who control everything from property development to shopping malls are pocketing rather than fairly sharing the billions they make. Yuen represents these tycoons. She too warned of doomsday if we restrict mainland visitors, with fear-mongering talk of efforts by Singapore and others to snatch tourists away.

Hong Kong had 54.3 million tourists last year, 41 million of them mainlanders. Do you know how many Singapore had? Just 15.6 million, with about 2.3 million of them mainlanders. Let's ask Yuen this: do you think Singapore would still be wooing mainlanders if they already had 41 million a year?

Forget about parallel-goods traders and grocery shoppers. We now even have tour groups who come just to use public swimming pools. Over 300 million mainlanders who can enter Hong Kong at will are within an hour away by bus, train or ferry.

Yuen sees hostility towards mainlanders as discrimination. It has nothing to do with that. People are just fed up with having to compete with the visitors for everything, and seeing their city's character being eroded. But how can people like Yuen, Mak and So understand this? They live in a world of chauffeur-driven cars sheltered from overcrowded MTR trains and public pools.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. [email protected]