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The government plans to take back a fifth of the Fanling golf course for housing. Photo: Winson Wong

How angry golfers hit Hong Kong’s extradition plan into the rough

  • With volley of criticism launched from Beijing, local business leaders aim to show their normally reliable backing of the government cannot be taken for granted

How a city manages its land and how it deals with foreign fugitives do not generally overlap. But in Hong Kong, enemies made in the former field appear to have come back to bite the government in the latter.

Because business heavyweights’ rare open criticism of the local government’s plan to allow extraditions to mainland China, sources have said, was fuelled by anger over its decision to build houses on a prestigious golf course where many of them play.

The leaders were also showing that their support for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was not to be taken for granted, emboldened by the knowledge that Beijing had not foisted the extradition move on Lam, but it was an idea of her own government.

On Thursday, businesspeople and representatives including former No 2 official Henry Tang Ying-yen, incoming Trade Development Council chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok and executive councillor Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung joined the chorus of criticism in Beijing.
Peter Lam (left) and Jeffrey Lam (right) aired their grievances with the extradition plan in Beijing. Photo: Kimmy Chung

Peter Lam and Jeffrey Lam are, respectively, the council chairman and vice-chairman of the Business and Professionals Alliance (BPA), which has eight seats on the 69-member Legislative Council. Unlike another pro-business group, the Liberal Party, the BPA has always had a close relationship with the government and rarely openly criticised it.

This time they sided with the American Chamber of Commerce, which warned last week the proposed extradition agreement could damage the city’s reputation as a safe haven for international business.
Carrie Lam’s blind spot is that she knows nothing about business and the financial sector. But as an ‘invincible’ leader who used to be the top student at school, she believes she knows everything
Business source

Even more surprisingly, they voiced their criticism while in Beijing for the annual meetings of the nation’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, where Vice-Premier Han Zheng had just exhorted them to “strongly support” Carrie Lam and the government.

The extradition deal, proposed by the Security Bureau, would allow the reciprocal transfer of fugitives on a case-by-case basis between Hong Kong and jurisdictions with which it lacks a formal transfer agreement, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macau.

In addition to voicing any genuine concerns held by the BPA, the party also aimed to demonstrate its influence. And a government plan to build on a historic city golf course provided further motive, sources said.

“That is certainly related to the takeover of the Fanling golf course. You know many of the donors to the party are so upset and angry,” a business source close to the party said. “They have to let donors know they have done their jobs.”

Another party member admitted the course, at the historic Hong Kong Golf Club, was a factor in the open criticism, saying: “Our support for the government should not be taken for granted.”

Former chief secretary Henry Tang was also angered by the decision over the golf course. Photo: Nora Tam
The 172-hectare course mainly serves 2,600 club members, many of them from among the city’s political and business elite. The city government last month endorsed all recommendations by an official task force set up to increase land supply and tackle the city’s housing crisis, including taking back a fifth of the golf course, which is leased to the club until 2020.

Peter Lam and Jeffrey Lam are both members of the club. So is Tang, who has also not concealed his anger at the housing proposal.

Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan also opposed the plan, but finally endorsed the recommendations. He described the decision as a “pity”, but said he found no better way to address the pressure on the government over the proposal, which won majority approval during the task force’s public consultation.

Another heavyweight business source said the business sector was infuriated that it was not consulted before the decision on either the golf course or extraditions.

“Carrie Lam’s blind spot is that she knows nothing about business and the financial sector, as she hasn’t worked in them during her career as a civil servant,” he said. “But as an ‘invincible’ leader who used to be the top student at school, she believes she knows everything.”

The BPA’s volley of criticism came only because the party knew the fugitive proposal came from the local government, rather than being decreed by Beijing.

“Officials here in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office are not clear about the proposal at all. They told us they have to learn more about it,” a source who had met the officials said.

Other sources confirmed they had not been told to stay silent on this matter, by either the liaison office in Hong Kong or officials they met in Beijing.

As it was not a “top-down” task, the party member, who had met security minister John Lee Ka-chiu, believed the government would tweak the plan in response to the heat from the business sector.

He suggested striking white-collar crimes from the 46 offences covered by the extradition proposal, and said the party had more detailed suggestions on how to define “serious crimes”, by their maximum penalty.

The Chief Executive’s Office declined to comment.

Any resolution both sides can find might not be the end of tensions between the government and business leaders. Looking forward, business sources warned that the planned ban on e-cigarettes would be its next battle.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Golf link to business elite who hit out at proposals to amend extradition law