If China can eradicate poverty in three years’ time, what’s Hong Kong’s excuse?

While the central government sets ambitious goals on lifting people out of want, our extremely rich city shrugs at the problem

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 10:43pm

After the measured pomp and pageantry of China’s twice-a-decade Communist Party congress, President Xi Jinping now has just three years to accomplish an enormously ambitious mission to wipe out poverty.

Building a “moderately prosperous society” by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the party’s founding, is the first of the country’s two “centennial goals”. The second, even loftier, target is to become a “fully developed nation” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

To give you an idea of the sheer scale of the task, more than 70 million people were estimated to be living in poverty in China in 2015, when Xi first launched his drive to lift them out of it.

Official statistics suggest the poverty-stricken demographic in rural areas shrank from 98.9 million in 2013 to 43.3 million last year.

The naysayers will tell you it’s an impossible task in the face of crippling obstacles such as corruption in the allocation of funds, fudging of figures to meet targets, and difficulties in setting up sustainable local industries that poverty alleviation schemes have to rely on.

However it turns out in the end, it’s a commendable cause, worthy of everyone’s support. Which is why I have to ask, where’s Hong Kong in all this?

As a special administrative region of China, we’re often encouraged to seize all the opportunities offered by national development drives, but left to our own devices when it comes to domestic issues such as poverty. And just look at the state we’re in.

In a city with the most Rolls-Royce and Mercedes cars per capita, at least 1.34 million people, out of a total of 7.34 million, are languishing below the poverty line. At the last count in October 2016, the poverty rate stood at 19.7 per cent of the population.

Asia’s purported “world city” is one of the worst when it comes to income disparity. The wealth gap is such that the poorest among us have to work 2½ years to earn as much as the wealthiest make in a single month.

More than 70,000 families survive on less than a pitiful HK$15 a meal per person.

What are we doing about all this? Well, on the face it, we have an official Commission on Poverty, but all I see is feeble, piecemeal initiatives. For a city sitting on nearly HK$1 trillion in fiscal reserves, we can surely do much, much more.

What does it mean to be poor in Hong Kong?

China is not a rich country as it tries to wipe out poverty, but we are a rich city in China that just shrugs at the problem.

Coinciding with the end of the party congress this week was a new report showing Asia has more billionaires than the United States for the first time. Half of them are from China, which now has by far the highest number in the region – 101 new billionaires were added to the list for 2016, taking the country’s total to 318.

Whether they’re genuinely generous or not, you can bet that China’s billionaires will have to cough up their contribution to the anti-poverty cause, in one way or another, because this is nation building after all.

I don’t know about nation building here in Hong Kong, although there’s a whole lot of building going on – mostly shopping malls and nano-flats, as our billionaire property developers maximise profits.

I bet they didn’t bat an eyelid when two women, aged 62 and 73, were arrested earlier this month for a cat fight over scrap cardboard. One was accused of using iron bars to attack the other, who fought back with an umbrella. Over pieces of cardboard they collect and sell for recycling at HK$0.50 per kg.

I wonder, sometimes, how the people who blow HK$100 million on a wedding or spend fortunes on diamonds they name after their children can sleep at night in “Asia’s World City”.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post