In the past two years, the central government has cracked down mercilessly on key private sectors. One count includes no less than 19 sectors, including fintech, e-commerce, social media, real estate and casinos (in Macau). The last sector, gambling, is perhaps most relevant to the situation in Hong Kong. It has long been the mainstay of the economy of the Macau SAR, the only place in China where gambling is legal. And, what are the mainstays of the Hong Kong SAR’s economy? Well, finance and property. Beijing has pulled out all the stops to revive and support the city’s banking and financial fortunes. But real estate? Now that’s unlikely. Will the local property sector be the next to face a reckoning from the central government? The likely election or selection of John Lee Ka-chiu as the next chief executive does not augur well for the dominant property families. Beijing has long been unhappy with their pervasive business hold on the local economy and people’s livelihoods. It wasn’t always like this. From the late colonial overlords to President Xi Jinping’s predecessors, the ageing property tycoons were once considered an indispensable force for stability and prosperity. But since Xi came to power almost a decade ago, they are increasingly seen as the problem. There have been two narratives about the radicalisation of local social and political movements, including the opposition. Hong Kong in bottom quadrant as home prices rise globally to 18-year high One was the lack of democratisation or at least its unacceptably slow pace. The other narrative, one that Beijing approves, is rising inequality and the deterioration of living conditions and standards among ordinary people. On its telling, despite the city’s growing economic pie since the 1997 handover, the largest slices have been swallowed up by Big Property. While there may not be outright collusion between the real estate elite and the local government, it’s undeniable that the government relies heavily on land sales, which annually account for about 20 per cent of total revenue. Both the government and real estate have the same vested interest in keeping up high property prices. The economics of public land sales is well-understood by every rising administrative officer whose privileged status within the government has made them part of the local ruling elite, a system inherited from the colonial era. Lee, a former police officer and security chief, carries no such institutional burden. He does know how to crack down, if ordered to do so.