Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong’s business elite: ‘a bellicose regime, a tangle of cowardice, blindness, craftiness and stupidity’

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South China Morning Post
Business
2016-09-08

Peter Guy

Shocked out of their arrogant complacency by the elections, they must now devise bold solutions to the problems they can no longer deny or ignore

The dust has settled on the polls and the result is extraordinarily vivid history.

Sprawling, profligate and bursting at the seams with self-contradiction, Hong Kong’s unsustainable and volatile mix of civic freedoms constrained by the lack of democracy has brewed a victory for six localists in the Legislative Council elections.

The rise of young activists such as Nathan Law shows the strength of democratic aspirations and desire for change. Hong Kong’s business elite suffered an unscheduled appointment with the rocket-propelled grenade of the independence campaign despite pitching a stupefying amount of vitriol and insults at them.

The real story of this election is that Hong Kong people are finally responding to the rise of economic and political inequality.

Critics derided the kids as brainwashed victims of a subprime liberal education who majored in gender studies, film deconstruction or any of today’s other academic fads.

But, voters have risen up against what they see as a corrupt and self-dealing establishment. They have supported radical outsiders in the hope of gaining some hope of political renewal. Power is a curious tool. It is where people believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.

Young, inexperienced candidates advocating some form of self-determination were vilified with the same veracity hurled at Donald Trump’s ideas. Yet they won high office.

There are two possible outcomes to this ideological struggle among the people and Hong Kong’s ruling business elite and Beijing: authoritarianism and oppression of dissent, or permit the city to freely elect its own chief executive without any threat to sovereignty.

Hong Kong’s tycoons need to come out from behind the backrooms of the past and involve themselves in today’s inevitable political change. Evolution towards the democratic election of the Chief Executive and the elimination of functional constituencies may sound like it is against their self-interest, but it’s the only way the city can move forward.

Future sessions of Legco will surely be mired in vicious filibustering. But that is necessary. It is an inescapable symptom of a dysfunctional system that fails to represent the people.

Big businesses are complaining about filibustering, but only because they have traditionally never faced opposition for any of their lucrative projects. What is beneficial for their profits is not necessarily good for the people affected.

An enlightened business establishment should evolve, but Hong Kong’s elite families won’t sell the democracy deal to Beijing. So expect more student protests simmering with chronic discontent.

Someone who met with Premier Xi Jinping when he summoned 40 of Hong Kong’s tycoons up to Beijing during Occupy told me that Xi views Occupy and other civil unrest in Hong Kong from a long term Chinese historical perspective.

It is rooted in 15th century Ming Dynasty as a struggle and disturbance against social stability. Aspirations for a liberal democratic society is only another power struggle that is to be resisted by the government for the sake of self-interested stability.

As a result, the city’s CE candidates have steadily declined in quality since 1997. After the recent election the role of CE is more difficult than ever, if not impossible. How or who Beijing and the city’s business elite will fill that role creates as many problems as it solves.

There may not be a saviour in the end. But, Hong Kong people want fair and proper political representation. And the establishment has failed to do this because of decades of self-indulgence and extensive economic and business misconduct.

Hong Kong business and its functional constituencies increasingly look like a bellicose regime, a tangle of cowardice, blindness, craftiness and stupidity. Their only purpose is to preserve intact a form of absolute monarchy bequeathed from father to sons all of whom lack the intellect, energy or training for their roles in a modern economy. They are more of an incumbency than a dynasty or governing majority. Cromwell would refer to them as ‘decayed servitors’.

They have learned nothing from Occupy and their impression of impertability that they convey is in reality apathy, the indifference of entrenched thinking that is so shallow as to be all surface.

So now that the elites have been shocked out of their arrogant complacency, the time has come for them to devise bold solutions to the problems they can no longer deny or ignore.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker

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