As Hong Kong counts down apprehensively to the October 1 National Day holidays, attention is focusing on how the government might address the underlying causes of the protests. As we wrote recently, CE Carrie Lam’s “Four Actions” are a decent game plan. But time is running out for specifics to be researched and decided ahead of the Policy Address at the end of October. The government cannot properly canvas public opinion by then. It is going to have to draft some measures on the fly, based on a less-than-perfect consultation mechanism.
As US media outlets continue to heap public pressure on Hong Kong and China over the street protests, more worrying news about the state of the Chinese economy is piling up, too. The Wall Street Journal has an article today questioning whether official statistics are telling the true picture of the country’s economic health, based on research taken from other public sources. Bloomberg, meanwhile, has a report highlighting the sharp fall in outbound tourism from China to southeast Asia. And the SCMP goes into our backyard to look at how consumers are holding up, finding that many are fearful.
It is a depressing day today in Hong Kong. The incessant September rains have been dampening moods and hampering travel, but they are not dousing the flames of the protest movement. Judging from widespread reaction to CE Carrie Lam’s speech yesterday, and her press conference today, it seems most protesters are unlikely to respond in a constructive way to the government’s decision to accede to the first of their five demands by withdrawing the Extradition Bill.
Rather, despite much media focus on the demand for an independent police enquiry, it looks increasingly like the only way the protests might end is if Hong Kong has an electoral system that allows a candidate to be elected on a platform of de facto independence, or “free elections”, as one young, charismatic student leader calls them. That isn’t likely to happen before 2047, unless China undergoes a societal change that is unimaginable at present. And so, even though some kind of road to reconciliation is starting to be laid by the government, it is likely to be a long walk to social harmony in Hong Kong.
As the Hong Kong protests drag on at the end of a hot and wet summer, it seems like there is a lot of waiting around happening. Protesters are waiting for the government to agree to their demands; the government is waiting for the protesters to stop vandalizing MTR stations; and everyone is waiting for the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to put us all out of her misery by resigning.
Today, she refused to, despite a leaked recording that clearly shows her at her wits’ end because she can’t get to the hair salon without running into protesters.
The Greater Bay Area’s third-biggest city is increasingly seen by the central government’s propaganda organs as being in the throes of a “Colour Revolution”. This might turn out to be a strategic mistake, as the nametag could motivate protesters to behave more radically. Those protests in Europe, which became known by the color of the protesters’ symbols – Ukraine got it going with the Orange Revolution – were focused, committed and widely seen as being on the right side of history: popular uprisings against corrupt dictators masquerading as democrats. And, most important, they largely succeeded. Is this what Beijing wants Hong Kong’s youth to look up to?
The situation in Hong Kong is not the same. This is a city within a country. Here, the protesters’ aims are set against the vast majority of the rest of China, their demands are incongruent, and the ranks of the extremists are dwindling as they engage in senselessly violent acts that turn off the mainstream. By comparing them to a movement that toppled unpopular leaders – often fleeing by helicopter in the middle of the night – Xinhua is, perhaps unwittingly, painting the protesters as revolutionary heroes and emboldening them.
In any case, investors fretting about what comes next for China’s dominant international hub (still) should not pay these official commentaries much notice. They are aimed at a mass audience. Better to consider the potential scenarios of what lies ahead now that the protests appear to have passed into a more radical stage.
It is possible that these protests continue to become more violent. As efficient as the Hong Kong police may be, this is a tough city to keep orderly against protesters adopting guerrilla tactics. The lack of firearms available here is a godsend, but there are many other ways that small, well-funded groups could wage a campaign of extreme violence against the government. In other words, brace for things to get worse. Declining numbers among these hard-core protesters are reassuring; but intensity levels are rising.
Moreover, as was seen this week at the start of two days of strike action, schoolkids and office workers are joining peaceful protests, which are showing little sign of flagging. This is not likely to run out of steam as classes resume and summer holidays end, which is what had previously been hoped for by the authorities. In other words, brace for further disruptions to daily life.
Vickey Li is the cofounder of OnePiece Work, a cross-border startup incubator from Silicon Valley. It leases space, but also provides consulting services to small and micro enterprises. Li views Shenzhen as a great place to start a business.
Vickey Li has had more than a taste of both American and Chinese corporate cultures. Educated in the US for senior high school and college, she returned to China after graduation to dive into Shanghai’s competitive real estate industry. That lasted three years before Li returned to the US to found her current company, OnePiece Work. Today she finds herself back in China, setting up a new office in Shenzhen. We caught her story at a recent event organized by Startup Grind Shenzhen.Continue reading Building a Cross-Border Startup
Shenzhen has been tapped to be a pioneer of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Which basically means it will be allowed to experiment with reforms while the rest of the country watches from a safe distance before deciding to follow suit. Commentators have seized on this announcement to foresee Hong Kong’s doom – finally – as its neighbour erodes its remaining competitive advantages. Parent-child metaphors are all the rage again, as commentators with little grasp of history or experience of policymaking portray Beijing’s decision as having been driven purely by exasperation at the audacity of Hong Kong’s youthful protesters. Others say that Hong Kong, “as we know it”, is over.
Perhaps perversely, such commentary is helping to achieve what Hong Kong’s bureaucrats have been unable to. It is necessarily dampening investor sentiment. This is reining in housing prices and releasing air from the stock market. So thank you, doomsayers. Much appreciated. Expectations for never-ending growth in asset prices had gotten out of whack. Now, Hong Kong stock valuations are among the cheapest in the region, and absurdly high property prices are wobbling. Some see this as cause for gloom, because IPOs are being delayed. It’s not. It’s a health check. Continue reading Hong KONG and Shenzhen: better together
Farah Master pays more attention to Macau than any other Hong Kong-based journalist, SCMP included, and so we were pleased to see today that she has a thoughtful piece out on the “other SAR”.
The timing is great. Hands up any reader that knew Macau was anointing a new Chief Executive this weekend? Didn’t think so.
Ho appears to be stepping into the job with gusto. Although initially reluctant to take a high-profile approach to his “campaign,” he has recently been a daily fixture on the front page of Macau Daily, constantly visiting local communities, pressing the flesh with leaders of grassroots associations and their rank-and-file alike. He has been able to do this, unlike his counterpart in Hong Kong, because he need not fear being petrol-bombed in public. Macau is a relative oasis of calm, even though it is a short hop across the bridge from the tinderbox of Hong Kong.Continue reading Macau’s new chief has a plan: don’t mess up
When the person overseeing the police on behalf of the public says that a political solution is needed to the city’s unrest crisis, it’s best to take notice. Anthony Neoh, former head of the SFC and a widely respected barrister, is currently head of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). The IPCC has been given the unenviable task of looking into police conduct during the protests. Thankfully, it has someone like Neoh at the helm.
As Neoh told the SCMP over the weekend, the police cannot be expected to put this protest down. It is political in nature; it needs political solutions. Demanding that the protests end before discussions or reviews can begin is not pragmatic, he points out. As long as the violence subsides, and the trend toward calmer demonstrations is evident, the initiative needs to be seized. This should start with properly acknowledging the spark that set the prairie on fire, the extradition bill, and properly put it out by formally withdrawing it from the Legislative Council.
Read more of his level-headed, common-sensical advice on scmp.com.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Chief Executive Carrie Lam is up to the task at hand. She does appear to have better support now, as the pro-establishment camp has been whipped into line by the HKMAO. But there is still a lot of hard work ahead. Neoh has parted the waters; but will she lead her people to the promised land?
Pardon the exaggerated metaphor, dear readers. But to continue it, to get through the turbulent waters in which Hong Kong finds itself will require more than the right direction. Lam is going to have to come up with some bold initiatives if she wants to show that she really is sincere in addressing the protesters’ grievances.
Here, too, she has had some good guidance from commentators recently. One is by the SCMP’s former editor, Wang Xiangwei. Wang argues that any attempt to address the underlying causes of the protests is going to have to result in taking action against the property barons and other vested-interest groups.
As he says, Lam needs to unveil a bold vision to tackle the “grey rhino” risks long associated with Hong Kong – sky-high property prices, worsening inequality, lack of social mobility for youth, and woefully underfunded social security. Previous chief executives have all talked about it. None has acted.
To do this, Lam must “bite the bullet”, says Wang, and seek the full support of the central government to take on vested interest groups, including property tycoons, the Heung Yee Kuk, and even environmental groups.
If Wang is writing this, it is highly likely that this is, in fact, what Beijing is already thinking. All she has to do is ask.
Read more on scmp.com
The past weekend’s protests in Hong Kong marked the tenth since they began. There are seven more to go until China celebrates the 70thanniversary of its modern era. The question on many minds at the moment is whether the protests will fizzle out gradually once university classes get under way, or whether National Day will be spent cleaning blood off the city’s streets.Continue reading HK heading toward a violent climax?