Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s announcement on Aug 20 that she wants to set up a platform for dialogue with the protestors was DOA though she assured that she and her principal officials “are committed to listening to what the people have to tell us.”
Listening is not enough. It is about doing, not just listening and doing nothing — or worse — doing what the entrenched political elite, mostly property developers who are landlords, and also monopolise many sectors of the economy want at the expense of the vast majority of the people.
Lam’s track record on listening to protest leaders earlier in 2014, and recent consultations on housing and the extradition treaty, speaks volumes. Her leadership has lost all credibility.
No wonder, some protesters quickly rebuffed her offer.
Hong Kong needs a long overdue makeover — economic and political. Time to uproot, prune, replant and rebuild the Hong Kong spirit that made the city an economic miracle.
Hong Kong has long been the best place on earth to live. One of the few safest places in the world, with low taxation, almost zero unemployment, the rule of law, a law-abiding citizenry that reinvents itself and changes with the global economic tsunamis which hit the territory periodically.
It attracted people from all over the world — Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East — to come and settle down, interacting with indigenous clans and migrants from China. It became a multi-racial international community helpful to the economic development of China. The vast majority of its populace is descendants of the migrants who left China during its internal rife and after the rise of the communist regime. They now consider themselves ‘Hongkongers’.
Hongkongers are, metaphorically speaking, a unique, tasty, rare exotic fruit compared to all other fruits in the global basket. Indigenous clans joined by people from all parts of the world make it the ultimate fruit smoothie! It tasted great and was easy to make with Hong Kong human blenders — until pre-handover 1990s.
However, an unholy alliance that existed between the administration and the rapacious property developers and landlords during the British colonial rule began tilting the balance. The new rulers following the transfer of sovereignty to China have failed to recognise this problem as the root cause of the discontent building up among the vast majority of the populace which is now fuelling the territory-wide democracy protests.
Developers who control all real estate sectors from residential to industrial, including infrastructure, became landlords, and with their huge profits bought-up and monopolised many economic sectors like supermarkets, pharmacies, communications, media, transport and utilities.
The result? A good portion of all Hongkongers income flows into the pockets of the developer-landlords. No room in shoe-box housing for educated people with no jobs and prospects of social mobility to live comfortably. Hence, they take to the streets, and street protests are becoming commonplace in Hong Kong.
A round table discussion to address how to solve this problem and how to best redox Hong Kong is long overdue. But that discussion platform won’t be one the Hong Kong government puts together. A political dialogue of the deaf led by Hong Kong’s chief executive won’t work and is DOA.
There should be two Round Table Conferences — the first economic, followed by political.
The Economic Round Table Conference (“ERTC”) should be convened ASAP by a respected local organisation that has a track record of organising conferences, like the South China Morning Post.
The focus of the ERTC should be jobs, housing, education, senior health care and social mobility. An immediate tangible concession on housing must be made with an agreed timeline to implement. My contribution to the discussion is detailed in my Op-Ed piece published in the SCMP of August 22, 2019, under the title “Greedy property developers to blame for discontent.”
Let China celebrate its National Day harmoniously and peacefully and start tackling political issues at the Political Round Table Conference after the ERTC.