Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ Category

It can only be Carrie Lam

March 20, 2017

I am probably not going to win many friends from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters by saying this, but on Sunday, when Hong Kong holds its “election” (in heavy quotes) for its next chief executive, only one candidate should be considered: Carrie Lam.

Or CY Leung 2.0 as she is somewhat disparagingly being called (CY Leung being the current chief executive).

A quick note on the election. In a democracy, the normal way of electing a head of state is for each member of the voting population to go to the polling booth and indicate who they would like to run the country.

But – and this is important – Hong Kong’s chief executive is not a head of state. It is the most senior official in Hong Kong’s governing body, which in turn is subservient to Beijing.

Hong Kong’s chief executive is not elected by every member of the voting-age population going to the polls. It is elected by a committee of 1200 members, many of whom have been hand-picked by Beijing.

Beijing have made it clear that they want Carrie Lam to replace CY Leung as chief executive.

And they should get their their way.

If Hong Kong was an independent nation, then one person stands head and shoulders above the others: John Tsang, the former financial secretary of the administration. An eloquent individual with a rational understanding of what needs to be done to improve Hong Kong’s lot. He also has a tough streak that seemingly belies his grandfathery moustache and the fact that in every publicity shot he has to be seen clutching a child.

But Hong Kong is not an independent nation and that is important.

It is part of Beijing, and if Beijing makes it clear that they want somebody as chief executive, then they should get what they want.

Hong Kong is a small and relatively insignificant region along the south coast of China. Very few people – either in or out of the territory – are seriously entertaining the notion of independence. And nor should they.

Much more can be achieved with Beijing as an ally than a foe, and the chief executive position is too important a matter for Beijing not to have their say.

But let this one go, maintain a sort of harmony and other victories can be had along the way.



April 19, 2016

I listened last week to two important people extol the many virtues of Hong Kong, and insist how the future success of this semi-autonomous enclave of China was guaranteed because of the tenacity and entrepreneurship of the people that live here, plus of course the robustness of the legal and financial system.

One of these people was John Tsang, Hong Kong’s financial secretary. The other was Stuart Gulliver, chief executive officer of HSBC.

They used phases such as “the highly-developed legal system and a heavy concentration of skilled professionals means that Hong Kong will be too far advanced… to be displaced [by China]” (Gulliver) and “Hong Kong’s success is built upon the rule of law [and] the persistence in upholding economic freedom, an extensive business network, sound financial infrastructure, a robust regulatory regime, [and] a well educated and resourceful workforce” (Tsang).

The problem was that such comments – which was what you would expect both of the parties to say – were overshadowed by the most eloquent speaker that went before them: Tsim Tak Luk, chairman of the Project Citizens Foundation, writer and intellectual.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that, to be honest, neither Tsang nor Gulliver proved to be particularly good speakers. Okay, I’ll accept that for Tsang English isn’t his first language. And, with the Sunday Times preparing to publish a story on Sunday about how Gulliver was for the chop in two years time, the HSBC CEO may have had other things on his mind.

But still they could have given a more robust defence against Luk’s invective.

Luk used such confrontational rhetoric as “Hong Kong is a city of broken promises, and the Hong Kong people is a people misruled” and “We have seen instead plenty of examples of mediocre people making dumb decisions for I don’t know whose benefit”.

Not perhaps the best choice of words when you are trying to introduce a member of the government that, in none too subtle a way, you are hell bent on criticising.

Luk pulled no punches when he spoke about Beijing: “Before 1997, the then sovereign, Her Majesty the Queen of England & the United Kingdom, was affectionately referred to as The Proprietress. After 1997, the new sovereign in Beijing is referred to, also affectionately, as The Grandfather. And the difference is this – the Proprietress left you alone to go about your business provided you made money for her, whereas the Grandfather loves to give orders and broaches no arguments.”

Grandfather does not always know best, said Luk, especially not high finance (the thought of making a reference about what happened to markets in China cannot have been far away from his mind).

The fear in Hong Kong is palpable – and Luk’s comments embodied perfectly the sentiments that I am hearing an increasing number of local Hong Kongers express: China needs to move carefully for the future success of Hong Kong to be guaranteed.

This fear didn’t go away as Hong Kong protestors closed their umbrellas at the end of 2014. It is still very much there, and with this being an election year, expect it to resurface in some form or another. Joshua Wong, the poster boy from the 2014 protests, has just launched his own political party.

I tend to see Beijing as largely pragmatic. I think many in the West do. If they’re making money they are happy, and they don’t want to derail Hong Kong’s success just for the sake of doing so.

But there is a danger here that many are increasingly sensing.

Luk concluded: “As we survey the current political landscape in Hong Kong, it is obvious that the politicization, polarization and radicalization of Hong Kong politics – and their relentless escalation – is the number one cause for concern… As Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of NPC said, the intelligent Hong Kong people will be able to find their own solution. If this is true, Hong Kong’s political risk goes down several notches, and our Financial Secretary Mr John Tsang’s bullish scenario may come to pass. But if the reverse is true, and Beijing chooses outright confrontation – the sledgehammer approach – then we are only one riot away from Hong Kong’s own June 4th  moment.”

This last was a reference to the terrible Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Which sounds bad to me. To be avoided at all costs.

Beijing has more sense these days.

One hopes.

Defending colonialism

April 7, 2016

Defending colonialism is a difficult thing to do. But no matter where I travel in the world it seems that people want to extol the virtues of the legacy that we – meaning us noble Europeans – left behind.

As a Brit whose forefathers helped conquer much of the world, any defence of what we might have achieved sounds painfully shrill against the historical memories of all that blood that was spilled.

And yet still people – mainly the natives of these countries that we conquered – are prepared to justify what we did in the name of progress.

We gave these uncivilised barbarians human rights, the rule of law, capitalism, electricity. And on the list goes.

Nowhere does the defence of European colonialism seem more obvious than in Hong Kong.

My Cantonese teacher – a flamboyant fellow with a deep dislike of the mainland Chinese – likes to thank and blame the British, in equal measure, for what they have done for the territory.

He thinks that colonialism was the best thing that could have happened to the country, and helped propel the region forwards from a collection of sleepy fishing hamlets to what you see today. I see skyscrapers and an unhealthy worship of money. But he probably sees more.

But he is also angry with the British – angry for leaving in 1997, and angry for not doing more to keep the territory out of the clutches of Beijing.

“You guys should never have left,” he complained to me over dinner.

Which sparked an intense debate as to the virtues or otherwise of colonialism – with me saying that the so-called “progress” the British heralded in could in no way justify the suppression of the natives (although I am aware that Hong Kong, important mostly as port for trading with China rather than anything grander, had a far less bloody history than other colonial outposts) and him claiming that the rewards future generations would enjoy more than made up for the grim history of colonialism.

But I could not see it like that. For me, colonialism was a self-serving evil that sought only to benefit the colonialists and not the colonised – and we got far more out of it than our colonies ever did.

Our conversation ended as the dessert arrived, with him summising that my views are founded upon some kind of colonial guilt that is forced upon us Europeans from birth. I certainly don’t feel guilty, but he’s probably right in some way: we Europeans do collectively believe that we bear some responsibility for the sorry state that many countries are in, which is why we are so keen to try and put things right (queue a brief discussion about the immigration dilemma Europe). Just as, of course, his background and regional context has shaped his positive view of British presence over here.

It reminded me of a scene out of George Orwell’s Burmese Days.

In this stunningly good book, the main protagonist John Flory, the only member of the colonialist elite that feels in some way embarrassed with what Britain is doing to the country, is forever trying to convince his Indian doctor friend, Veraswami, about the evils of empire. He consistently fails, with Veraswami’s rose-tinted eyes constantly admiring the culture, progress and refinement that Her Majesty’s subjects were bringing the Asian outpost.

I was playing John Florry, my Cantonese teacher the good doctor. Two people from different backgrounds and different cultures whose very different view of the world was coloured by their upbringing.

I am now reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, which charts the development of humankind through the ages. Whilst Harari certainly is not an apologist for colonialism, there is a very fine subtext running through the chapters where he talks about imperialism: and that is, despite all the horrific bloodshed and evil-doing, the benefits of colonialism to future generations have always been significant.

It happened with the expansion of the Romans. It happened with the expansion of the Arabs. And it happened with the Europeans, too.

Bath tubs, numbers, human rights. These people all left something valuable behind.

But I still feel squeamish when I hear, a mere half a century after our empire unravelled, people speaking favourably about what we did.